Going above and beyond what is asked of her led to Teresa E. Murphy being named Francisco R. Walker Teacher of the Year in the Miami-Dade County school district.
The accomplishment left Murphy, 50, a teacher of fourth grade students at Spanish Lake Elementary School in Hialeah, “absolutely shocked!”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly a year ago, Murphy had an unlikely reaction that reflects her optimistic nature.
She said she was “thrilled” at the thought of trying something new with distance learning, which required her to connect with her students through their computer screens.
That led to her using filters that made her appear to be wearing costumes, as a way to keep kids’ attention.
But distance learning also gave Murphy cover and enabled her to hide the effects of treatment for a life-threatening illness.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer on Aug. 20. “That first chemotherapy came and I thought I was going to die,” said Murphy.
But Murphy saw teaching as an escape from her temporary reality, which included working remotely from a treatment center while cancer-fighting drugs were delivered through a port in her chest.
“Being in [a virtual] class wasn’t that bad because I would forget what I was going through during class hours,” she said.
Murphy lives with her husband Manny Sola in the Country Club of Miami neighborhood.
She has two adult children, Michael Acosta, 25, and Megan Acosta, 22.
Her fourth grade kids had no idea what she was going through.
That all changed for the students a few weeks before the ceremony on Feb. 4.
Murphy’s peers at Spanish Lake Elementary nominated her for the honor.
First Murphy won the regional competition among educators at 103 schools in the county’s northwest district.
Then she landed the countywide prize, Francisco R. Walker Teacher of the Year, out of competitors from among 392 schools.
“Teresa E. Murphy, from Spanish Lake Elementary School, is an inspiration to all of us and we are grateful and honored that she has chosen to dedicate her professional life to the students of Miami-Dade County,” said Perla Tabares Hantman, chair of the School Board for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Though Murphy is a dedicated educator, teaching was not her first career choice.
Becoming an attorney was her goal, but law school was too expensive.
She decided to get a teaching degree and work in classrooms to help pay for her legal degree.
But during her first semester at a community college, a teacher inspired Murphy to pursue a career in education, and she’s never looked back.
From Florida International University, Murphy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education and a Master of Science degree in Early Childhood Education.
Murphy has spent nearly 28 years influencing young lives in classrooms.
But still, there is that cancer battle. Though it’s not over yet, Murphy says she is confident she can win it.
She shared her personal philosophy about fighting the disease.
“I’ve always believed 100 percent your attitude plays a whole role in deciding your day,” Murphy said. “You have to believe in yourself. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to get through the day.
“I have to be very positive, and believe it,” Murphy said.
Her prizes are a new car from Kendall Toyota and $4,500.