MIDWAY TEACHER BRINGS INNOVATION TO THE CLASSROOM
Kaitlyn Murphy knew she wanted to be a teacher as early as kindergarten.
“I just always loved teaching people,” she said. “I would teach my younger brother the things I was learning. I really love to see people learn something new and see it excite them, so I always knew. I had my own classroom in my basement.”
Murphy is going into her third year as a first-grade teacher at Midway Elementary School in Forsyth County, her first teaching job after graduating from the University of North Georgia.
“I had heard good things about Midway, so they were at the top of my list,” Murphy said. “When I interviewed, I fell in love with the principal and the administration; and luckily, they loved me.
“The school reminds me of my own elementary school, in that it’s very welcoming,” she said. “Everybody says that when they walk in, they feel like they’re at home and there are family and friends there.”
Murphy said she wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else because of Midway and Forsyth County Schools’ commitment to innovative teaching strategies. She’s developed a reputation for being one of the first to try new things.
“I really love the direction that they’re headed, investing in technology and personalized learning,” she said. “The county pushes a lot of technology use — and use in a good way, not just a time-filler.”
One example of personalized learning is giving students different seating options, something Murphy successfully implemented in her second year of teaching. The county has also helped her adopt virtual reality technology and other tools that she might not have tried outside of Forsyth, she said.
While Murphy initially thought she would want to teach upper elementary school, she now can’t imagine trading in the smiling faces and hugs she receives from first-graders each day.
“The one thing that I love about teaching is that every day is going to be different,” she said. “I don’t go to a job where everything is the same and I have meetings all day. I walk in, and I’m teaching something different and my kids are in a different mood. You never know what you’re in for, and that’s what keeps you coming back.”
MASHBURN TEACHER SHOWS STUDENTS HOW TO BE THEMSELVES
Jessica Stanford knows having fun in the classroom and teaching kids to withstand peer pressure go hand-in-hand.
Stanford is a teacher at Cumming’s Mashburn Elementary, where she attended elementary school and where she did her student teaching before graduating from the University of North Georgia. Now going into her fifth year of teaching, Stanford is switching to fourth grade after years of teaching fifth-grade reading and social studies.
“You get to teach them how to love life, whereas in high school, you have to meet them where they are,” Stanford said. “The fifth-graders are figuring out who they are and the type of person they want to be. You get to influence that. You get to help them realize that being weird is actually pretty cool, and you don’t have to like what everyone else likes.”
Stanford, a self-described nerd and fan of Star Wars, Harry Potter and Doctor Who, said she incorporates that nerdiness into her lessons.
The teacher’s role in encouraging individuality sets upper elementary school apart, Stanford said, and imparts an important message to students before the challenging years of middle school.
“We have a lot of conversations about how it’s not always going to be easy, but it’s going to be OK,” Stanford said. “As long as you love who you are, it’s going to be OK. You can’t listen to everyone else.”
Stanford said there’s little difference between what she’s like in the classroom and at home, which can make it challenging to find work-life balance.
“It can be difficult to disconnect,” she said. “I don’t think you ever really can. I refer to them as ‘my kids.’ If I know that they’re going to go home and it’s not going to be a great evening for them, I’ll think about that too.”
But her passion and personalized approach to teaching makes each class engaging.
For example, each Halloween, Stanford’s students can write essays to persuade her to wear a costume of their choice. Students who appeal to her nerdiness have the best chance of winning, she said, which is why in years past, students may have seen Princess Leia or Hermione Granger walking the halls of Mashburn.
This fun approach is one reason why in 2017, Stanford was named Mashburn Teacher of the Year, and why she remains in many students’ hearts.
“You get to be one of those people they remember for the rest of their lives, if you do a good job,” Stanford said. “When you teach fifth grade, you send them off to middle school and you think you’ll never hear from them again. The best compliment you can get is when a student reaches back out to you. Them wanting you to know that you made a difference is the best feeling.”