- Erica with her husband and daughters, Hadley (5) and Tessa (3).
Today we’re highlighting our newest member of the Hendy team, Erica Murphy, who joined us from Ascend Public Schools. Erica is currently supporting our long-term partner, KIPP Texas Public Schools, to effectively integrate and implement their Teacher Career Pathway across their four regions and also to develop a plan to improve new teacher retention and development. Erica was an outstanding teacher, principal, and academic leader who knows curriculum and instruction inside and out. She loves solving problems and helping both kids and adults to meet their potential. We’re thrilled to have this incredible educator bring her many skills and talents to the Hendy team. She’s already making a huge impact! Enjoy this interview with Erica!
Why did you choose to work in education?
When I was a little girl I loved to play school. I would organize my stuffed animals to be my “class” and I would teach them – for hours. As I got older and continued to “play school” with friends, I realized I had an ability to explain things to people in a way they really understood. In middle and high school, I would watch my peers ask a question in class when they were confused by something taught. I’d watch the response from the teacher and sometimes see that my friend was still confused, though the conversation moved on. I’d always find the person after class to attempt to clarify whatever the confusion was and I was generally pretty good at it.
The “aha” moment my friends would have after I supported them was the most gratifying experience. It was like a puzzle to me – I loved being able to identify the specific point of confusion, and then help people make sense of what we were all struggling to learn. As an educator now, I believe great teaching is doing just that – observing students to better understand what they know and what they don’t yet know and then designing tasks and questions to help get them get to understanding. I get a thrill out of that kind of student observation and creative problem solving.
What was your first year of teaching like?
My first year of teaching was – by far – the hardest professional year of my life. Before entering the classroom, I had dreams of fostering a strong classroom culture, connecting deeply with my students and their families, and bringing learning alive in the classroom in a rigorous and relatable way. Instead, I struggled. I struggled to establish a classroom focused on learning. I struggled to connect with my students. I struggled to make learning relevant and interesting to my students. It felt like I was sinking.
My school didn’t have a robust coaching program, strong professional development opportunities, or a central curriculum and so, like many first year teachers, I was left to figure things out on my own. Every day, I felt like I couldn’t go back. I was exhausted – both emotionally and physically – but knew that I had to show up to try and do the best I could with my students. I was lucky to have another first year teacher next door who was struggling as much as I was. After school, she and I would (honestly) cry and then talk about what we could do differently the next day. We’d invent new routines, new morning meeting protocols, we’d change seating arrangements, revamp lessons to make them more engaging – anything to try and be better than the day before.
Eventually, not through any great turning point or event, just by sheer hard work, will, slowly building relationships with my kids, and by constantly testing out and refining my practices I got better. I slowly learned to be clearer, more planned, more purposeful and more engaging. By February break of that first year I finally felt like I had some sense of what I should be doing. I started to swim.
My advice to first year teachers – don’t give up, find a mentor or friend or colleague to work with, and be willing to iterate, iterate, iterate until you figure out a style and a set of practices that works for you.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Probably not surprisingly given my experience, my favorite part of my job is supporting and developing teachers! I don’t think everyone’s first year of teaching needs to be so hard and so lonely. With thoughtful, purposeful training, coaching and development, we can create practices that prepare our teachers for the classroom faster and more effectively.
As a principal, I devoted most of my time and my leadership team’s time to observing, coaching and supporting our newest teachers. We created opportunities for newer teachers to be observed more, coached more, and to teach less in their first months in the classroom. They had the opportunity to observe excellent teachers within our building and learn from the best. These teachers had the support of the school behind them while learning, and they and their students fared better for it.
In my role now, I get to work with districts to develop network-wide strategies to better develop and retain teachers. I am so excited at the prospect of creating systems and practices that allow every single teacher to be intentionally developed and eased into the profession in a way that is healthy for them and their students.
What’s a favorite book or quote?
During my first year as a principal, I posted this quote on the white board above my desk. It helped me keep things in perspective and get ready for each new day.
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Outside of work, I love to read, run, and spend time with my two daughters.
Even when I’m exhausted, I’ll read at least one page before bed. I love to read anything – fiction, non-fiction, biographies, you name it! Some of my recent favorites include The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and Moonglow by Michael Chabon.
I run almost every day – it helps me clear my mind and decompress. I ran my first marathon during my first year of teaching – I think it was the only way I was able to make it through that incredibly demanding year. I love to run in Prospect Park and my oldest daughter sometimes runs with me these days!
I love doing just about anything with my two daughters – Hadley and Tessa. We paint, read, go to the park, play with brain flakes, go out for french fries, and make jewelry. Their energy and enthusiasm for things never ceases to make me smile.