I have been in education my entire adult life. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English Education with a minor in journalism, I taught high school English for five years during which time I went back to school and got my Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling with certification in grades K-12. I don’t really know how to “not” be in education, a struggle which has led me to retire twice and return to counseling and teaching at some level for the past 35 years. Over those years, I have worked with thousands of students at all levels and I have been fortunate enough to love every day of my career. I always seemed to have a small group of kids who became “the Murray children” and although I never played favorites, there were those kids who just stole a piece of my heart.
I started my first position as a counselor in a small school, serving as K-12 counselor. This presented a whole unique set of challenges. Although the elementary and high school buildings were right next to each other and the classes were relatively small, it never failed that while I was trying to do elementary lessons, there would be a crisis at the high school and I would be pulled back to that building. There never seemed to be enough hours in the day to take care of all the issues at all 13 grade levels.
I moved on to become an elementary counselor for grades 3-5 where I stayed for eight years. I was responsible for scheduling, crisis counseling and went into each classroom weekly to do lessons with the students. We talked about character, jobs, and we “wiggled.” I used music to allow students to get up out of their chairs and just move. Their favorite activity was the question book, which was a book of 365 questions. I would let them pick a number and answer the question. Questions were sometimes silly and sometimes serious and they never knew what they were going to be asked. Sometimes I substituted my own question for what was in the book, like “What is do you think is the best job you could have?” and “What is the worst job there is?”
After creating an at-risk program in the building, I decided that I wanted to return to high school counseling and I never went back to elementary. I felt like the secondary level was the place that I could best serve students and although I moved around over the next several years, I stayed at the high school level.
I gave my whole heart to my students, and I have made some lasting relationships from students with whom I once worked and now have children of their own. I have seen students struggle through high school and arrive at college just to find their niche and become very successful adults. I have also seen students who had a master plan as they graduated, fall flat and have to totally regroup. In addition, I have been lied to and stolen from, called nasty names by both students and an occasional parent, but fortunately, those experiences have been the exception.
Over the years I have had special students who have become known as the “Murray children,” usually because they spent a great deal of time in my office just hanging out not because they needed counseling or because of circumstances that happened bringing us closer together. The kids at Appleton City were one of those groups. Right after I moved there, a tragic accident that involved four students and took the life of one of them. This young lady had been the first person I’d really talked to, since worked at the little restaurant in town. I instantly felt a connection and it only grew as we maneuvered life without her. Spending time in a small community meant getting to know the families and students closely and when tragedy struck once again in my third year there, these relationships that had already grown became even stronger. The “Murray children” worked through losing one of the members of the senior class who had been Student Council President when she was killed going home from play practice. She was a brilliant artist and very smart young lady. I will never forget after spending the week taking care of those kids, I headed out of town to spend some time with my own children and one of my students called me and said “where are you going and when are you going to be back?” They weren’t being nosey, they just needed the security of knowing I was there.
Another set of “Murray children” emerged during my last full-time counseling position in another small town. After taking a critical shortage position post-retirement, I again found myself in a small school. During that two-year position, I got to know both the students and their families quickly and during my second year there, the “Murray children” became daily visitors in my office for no apparent reason. They were students who didn’t need counseling, but liked to hang out. They had a “thing” about scaring each other and I often came into my office to find a kiddo hiding under my desk, waiting to scare their friends.
That year Covid hit and I was robbed of the last six weeks with my seniors. I went through the same grief and anger they were experiencing as I was unable to see them on a face-to-face basis as they finished their high school career and I finished my last year of full-time high school counseling. I have to admit that a few “chance” sightings might have happened during that quarantined time (with parent permission) because there were some scholarship and college things that just had to be done and we both just needed to see each other.
I feel extremely blessed that I was able to do what I loved for so many years. The students that came through my life have made my career amazing and as I look forward to the future, I am sure that I will find a way to serve in some other capacity and will learn to enjoy the fruits of my labor as I see my former students become successful adults.