By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Some children might say “doctor” one day and “police officer” the next, but Connie Murphy never wavered in her desire to become a teacher.
“I remember announcing it in third grade; I might have known even before that,” she recalled. “I never considered anything different.”
One thing she didn’t know about her career, though, was that nearly all of it would be spent teaching in one district.
“I am very grateful for the experience of having a job that I loved,” said Murphy, who is retiring at the end of the school year, after 43 years at Lester Prairie Elementary School.
Murphy taught in Fort Dodge, IA for two years before accepting a first-grade teaching position in Lester Prairie.
“When Superintendent Art O’Neil and Principal Georgia Weise offered me a teaching contract, I had no idea that I would remain teaching in Lester Prairie for the rest of my career,” she wrote in a retirement letter to the school.
Murphy stayed with first grade until last fall, when she volunteered to follow her first-graders to second grade. (The incoming first-grade class was small enough to be handled by one teacher this year.)
As the year drew to a close, second-graders were asking Murphy if she can be their teacher again next year. When Murphy told them she’s retiring, students showed how much they’ll miss her with crying and hugs.
Murphy will miss her students, too.
“I’ve looked forward to the beginning of each school year, and shed tears on the last day of most,” she noted. “I will always believe that students benefit most from a caring connection with their teacher; I have tried to show that I cared.”
Before and after school, Murphy spends hours preparing for her classes. And even when summer starts, thoughts of school are never far away.
“Mrs. Brandel [the other first-grade teacher] and I get together every year the beginning of August sometimes the end of July to start planning for the next year,” she said.
Teaching never gets monotonous, as Murphy is continually improving her skills.
“The longer I teach, the more I think about what ‘could’ be done or ‘should’ be done,” she said.
From the beginning of first grade to the end, students go through a visible transformation in their abilities especially in the area of language.
“When they get here, some don’t know very many letter sounds, and others have started to read. Regardless, the change is so incredible that they see it. It’s like their world has opened up,” Murphy said.
As part of a small school district, Murphy has had the opportunity to watch her first-graders become high school students, graduate, and go on to have families of their own. Teaching the children of some of her former students has been a “special treat.”
Murphy said that although she will miss teaching, the timing felt right to retire this year.
With her extra free time, she’s looking forward to tending the vineyard where she and her husband, Brian, grow and sell grapes. She’s also excited to focus on other hobbies, such as traveling, cooking, sewing, reading, canning, gardening, and spending time with family.
She’ll probably be back to visit Lester Prairie School, too.
“It’s like home to me,” she said.