Life lessons from a Newburgh teacher

By Lina Wu
Posted 6/17/20

John Murphy is a Spanish teacher at South Middle School. But he does more than just teach Spanish, he teaches his students life lessons.

With the recent novel coronavirus [COVID-19] pandemic and …

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Life lessons from a Newburgh teacher


John Murphy is a Spanish teacher at South Middle School. But he does more than just teach Spanish, he teaches his students life lessons.

With the recent novel coronavirus [COVID-19] pandemic and recent killing of George Floyd, his life lessons have become more pertinent than ever.

Every morning by 8:30 a.m. Murphy would create a character piece for students. His character pieces are a small blurb of English text with a video attached to it. Each piece goes off of current news, and the feelings of students.

Typically Murphy would link his pieces to clips from CBS’s ‘On the Road’ with Steve Hartman. “They’re nice and short, and they deal with the best of humanity,” said Murphy about the clips. “It wasn’t just negativity. It would give the students something to think about.”

Murphy said he had already started to use character pieces in school prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “When we were dismissed and our new normal began, this [the character pieces] actually worked even better,” said Murphy.

“It allowed me to post first thing in the morning and then get back to it,” said Murphy. “To make references and then pay attention to what the kids were thinking about, worrying about, and what was in the news.”

Murphy uses his character pieces to shape the social and emotional learning of his students. He said social and emotional learning is really character education.

His students react well to the pieces, yet there is still a disadvantage when doing character learning from a distance. In the classroom, students can watch pieces and react together.

Still, there are advantages to his character pieces in distance learning.

“I posted one and late in the evening, one of my students, one of these real tough kids, sent me an email and said ‘I watched it with my mom. It made her cry.’” said Murphy. “It was very sweet, because that boy would never share something like that in the classroom.”

Murphy said his character pieces offer students the opportunity to think about real life situations. His pieces help students see the good of humanity in tragic situations like a natural disaster. They also help students wonder about what they do.

The pieces offer students the opportunity to “talk about what happens in their own community and talk about charity,” said Murphy. “And talk about brotherhood , sisterhood and fraternity, it really is quite something.”

Murphy, himself, has been an educator for over 30 years. For most of his career he was a principal. Three years ago, he left that role to become a teacher at South Middle School. In many ways he goes above and beyond for his students. While some have been uncertain over distance learning, Murphy has made the most of it.

“I was really lucky this year,” said Murphy. “I took advantage of a training called version training. Where I was exposed to all the technology at bringing teaching to life in a whole new way.”

“We could close teaching on a Friday afternoon in a traditional way, and Monday morning start teaching from a computer and I felt very comfortable.”

Murphy described the amount of time put into distance learning as a bit more difficult than in person learning.

“One last thought, this was the single most unique year that I have spent in my educational career,” said Murphy over email last Friday.

“In the midst of the pandemic, I decided to accept the district’s Retirement Incentive and move on. However, I have petitioned the superintendent to rescind my retirement and hope to remain in Newburgh. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is the students! I always knew “our kids” at SMS [South Middle School] were special, but listening to their thoughts and insights brought to life through Character Education reveals a depth of knowledge, insight and humanity that makes me want to stay and continue to be a part of the dynamic as it grows and helps to redefine the character, nature and uniqueness of our very special school.”


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