*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for writing today’s post in celebration of National Teacher Day.*
May 7th is National Teacher Day. Since 1985, each Tuesday of the first full week of May has been a nationally recognized day to honor teachers. According to the National Education Association, the day’s origins go back to around 1944 when Mattye Whyte Woodridge, an Arkansas teacher, initiated correspondence with political and education leaders about setting aside a day to recognize teachers. Eventually, she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, who ultimately convinced Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day in 1953. On this National Teacher Day, I would like to honor my husband, Mr. Dan Murphy, a teacher whose commitment to education also began in Arkansas.
Dan is currently a special education teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Before coming to Fairfax County, he taught special education in the Batesville Public Schools in Arkansas. However, his work with special needs students began when he was in high school. Inspired by his uncle, Dr. Jerry Bensberg, an early researcher in the field of mental disabilities and a long-time developmental psychology professor, Dan began working at summer camps for children with special needs. Dan’s work at Camp Wyldewood in Arkansas and Camp Woodhaven in Missouri provided him with his initial opportunity to interact with children and young adults with developmental disabilities.
While he was a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Dan continued to work with special needs individuals. He spent one summer as a counselor at Camp Freedom in Ossipee, New Hampshire. Camp Freedom was an innovative program that provided educational and recreational experiences for special needs children in a camp-like environment. Dan also worked as an educational assistant in a behavioral management program for children with autism at the Arkansas Children’s Colony (now the Conway Human Development Center), a state-managed residential training facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.
As a teacher, Dan has been active in Special Olympics, and he has developed his own education programs. In 2004, he garnered a grant for a recycling program at Floris Elementary School where he currently teaches. Recently, at Floris, Dan started a program called the Lunch Bunch. Four days a week, he selects a small, diverse group of students and meets with them during lunch. This thirty-minute segment of time is designed to be stress-free and allows the participants an opportunity to share a meal, talk, and play games.
Not everyone has the giftedness or the grace necessary to be a teacher, and special education is a field in which the attrition rate is particularly high. Nevertheless, Dan has stayed true to his altruistic roots for over 30 years. Students know they can rely on Mr. Murphy for kindness, patience, and support as well as for something that matters to all people – unconditional acceptance.