By Yonglin Zheng
This will be the 21st year that Elizabeth Murphy has taught at Batavia High School. Murphy teaches English and Creative Writing classes. With about three classes a semester and two semesters a year, her teaching style has helped her impact the English curriculum at Batavia High School. The Spectator sat down with Murphy for a short interview to reflect the unique energy she brought to the classroom.
Q: It’s fair to say that towards the end of a term or semester you could have up to 90 papers or more to grade along with tests. In all honesty, what does it feel like?
Murphy: “It’s exhausting. Well, it’s a lot of reading. And to make comments on everything… because I think students think that we don’t read them all the time… If students take the time to write it, then I take the time to read it. Plus we [teachers] have lives outside of school.”
Q: Out of all the years you’ve been teaching, what makes it a “good day” at school? What makes it a “bad day”?
Murphy: “There used to be a saying that I can control the climate of my classroom. As a teacher, I can make this a miserable day for you, or I can make it a really good day. And I’d like to think, I try to make it a good day. Say I have a bad morning, I cannot let that carry over into the classroom.”
Q: What do you wish your students understood more about teaching? It is commonly understood that in English classes students ask you about their grades constantly.
Murphy: (Sighs). “I don’t think teachers worry about grades like their kids do. I think teachers worry more about what you’re learning. What are you getting from this? Grades are very subjective. When we did Lord of the Flies I had kids say, I would never have picked that up. And they got more out of it because we did it together as a class. A lot of the things we read in class is stuff that kids aren’t just going to go to the library and say, gee I want to read Huck Finn.”
Q: And why do we only study certain classics in literature classics? Because in the eyes of many students these pieces are rather boring and seemingly pointless.
Murphy: “Like you said, these are classics. There are certain things we can teach you from using those books. A lot of these are studied because they are classics, they are referred to in other areas. Like if you have never read The Scarlet Letter, that is kind of an iconic piece. Like Harry Potter, that kind of ideology. But these books are also well-crafted. They’ve stood the test of time…Our experiences, like I said, are finite, we don’t have a lot of different experiences. How we tell the stories becomes the difference.”
Q: What did you really want to achieve in becoming a teacher?
Murphy: “I wanted people to love literature as much as I did. I’ve always wanted to become a teacher. I had a pretend school in my basement when I was growing up… I’ve always loved reading, I’ve always loved books. And the fact that they can kind of take you anywhere, anytime, any place…Maybe it’s because I don’t have a creative bone in my body. And I can appreciate people that just write beautifully…I guess it’s like watching ballet or something. Writing is a gift, a talent, it’s a craft.”
Q: For the kids that want to teach English or writing classes in the future, what do you suggest they do in college?
Murphy: “You’ll major in education, but I would take as many literature classes as possible. Because you need that background knowledge and you have to be able to – well maybe it’s just me – but you have to be able to put the knowledge in different ways so everyone can understand it. And I’d have to be able to present it throughout time like I have to be able to make connections between something that was written in ancient Greece to now. Literature is timeless.”
Q: What is your spirit animal?
Murphy: “I’m a sea turtle. And if you look at the definition of a sea turtle, I’m a sea turtle. Well at least according to some quiz I took online. It’s odd because I was shopping and I bought a turtle necklace before I took that quiz. And it was destiny.”