Mrs. Murray was one of two teachers named VCS TOTY in early September. The district's competition ended in a tie and city officials chose to announce both winners because Mrs. Murray had to submit a letter of resignation in the weeks leading up to the announcement. Murray and her family will be transferring to a United States Air Force base in another state as her husband will soon begin officer training school.
Each school's nominee for Teacher of the Year is asked to complete an official packet consisting of an official resume, basic identifying information, letters of recommendation and a number of questions about the nominee's teaching style, project/initiatives they have been involved in at their schools, issues in public education today and lastly, what their message would be should they be selected as Georgia Teacher of the Year.
It was that final question where Mrs. Murray shared a very poignant message. This message struck not only the judges for Valdosta City School's contest but also many colleagues and students who had no idea what led this TOTY into the profession. The official question reads, "As the 2021 Georgia Teacher of the Year, you serve as a spokesperson and representative for teachers and students. What is your message? What will you communicate to your profession and to the public?"
Mrs. Murray's official response:
"This is my message to the public if I am chosen to represent the great teachers of Georgia. I am them and they are me. I am that student in the corner no one wants to play with because I look different. I am that kid who is wearing clothes too big because it is all I have. I’m that kid who is asking for some paper because my mom can’t afford any school supplies. I am that kid who was conveniently sent for a teacher exchange during parties because I couldn’t afford to bring treats to the snack party. I am the kid who is bragging about my phone being “lit” and that is why I carry a phone charger everywhere. The reality is that I don’t have any electricity at home. I am the one who worked hard on Father’s Day gifts and activities just to throw it away on the way home because there was no one to give it to. I am that student who came to school tired because I slept in a car for the last two years of high school.
I say “I am” and not “I was” because although I am blessed to no longer know that struggle, this is my past and always a part of me. Because this was my past, I knew I did not want this to be my future. My escape has always been education. I was not blessed with much, but I am thankful to have been blessed with a love for learning. I did homework every night by candle and moonlight. I came home, hand-washed and hung my one set of uniform to dry every day. I had amazing teachers who did not question me when I asked to come in early, so I can use their computers. Some teachers allowed me to spend my lunch breaks in their rooms, so I can use their supplies to work on projects. I refused to let my unfortunate upbringing define my future.
I am the oldest of five children. I wanted to show my siblings that we can break the cycle. We are not subject to this kind of living just because it is what we see every day. I have that same mindset about my students. Our students go home to situations we are unaware of, and they do not need sympathy because of it. They need empathy. They need someone who will offer them a safe place. They need to know that they are not alone and that they have the power to focus on school, graduate, and make something of themselves. Our students do not need to be embarrassed about their past. Our past is our foundation. Without this foundation, we’d have nothing to build ourselves on. I did not feel sorry for myself. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. I am them and they are me.
My message to the public is to keep fighting no matter what life throws at you. I am proud of my accomplishments now because I know where I came from. I came from nothing, yet here I am. I am the American Dream. I have a husband, house, kids and dream job. I have nine years of military service with several Army awards to show for it. My message to the public is to not let anyone tell you who you can or can’t be. You don’t tell anyone what you can or can’t be either. You prove it. “I didn’t grow up having role models, I grew up having people I didn’t want to be like and seeing situations I’d never want to be in. Not all of us are dealt the right cards but that doesn’t mean you can’t reshuffle your deck for a better outcome” (author unknown). My hope in life is to be a role model for students who feel like they have no options. I aim to inspire students to work hard and do what is necessary to succeed in everything they do. My goal is to be a reminder that “Your present situation is not your final destination” (author unknown). They have the same opportunity as I did, to rise above what they are going through and accomplish their wildest dreams. I am them and they are me."
Everyone in Valdosta City Schools and S.L. Mason Elementary wishes the Murrays safe travels to their new state and thanks to them for their service to the United States of America.