New Teacher Q&A: Paul Murphy, social studies

Leon Yang, Sports Writing Editor

By Leon Yang

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Mr. Murphy is a 10th grade social studies teacher at Brookline High School who has previously taught at an all girls Catholic School in San Jose, California for two years. In his free time, he enjoys gardening, reading the short stories of George Saunders, and watching films.



Before we start, did you do anything interesting this summer?

I traveled a little bit, went to a wedding in Pittsburgh, which I’d never been to before. When I was there, I learned that there was a bike trail from Pittsburgh to D.C.- it was an old railroad for the first half that they converted into a bike trail and the second part was an old canal that they converted into a bike trail. So, I decided that I wanted to ride it. I flew back to Pittsburgh and then biked to D.C. over 5 days.


And are you an avid biker?

Yeah, I bike. I went to college in Portland, Oregon, which has one of the biggest biker populations in the country and everyone was biking, so I started biking. It’s a little more stressful here because the drivers are a little crazy, but I haven’t given it up yet. I might give it up in the wintertime.


What are your first impressions of Brookline High School?

All positive. Maybe my first impression was that it was so big, because my high school was only about 330 students and Notre Dame, where I taught in San Jose, was about 660, and that seemed big to me at the time, and then Brookline is enormous. So I was a little wary about “What’s that going to be like?” but it seemed like such a friendly, calm, welcoming place. The students are responsible and take care of the place and care about contributing to a good community and stuff, so I guess I’m impressed about how smooth it is, how nice everybody is given that it’s so big.


What is so appealing about social studies that made you want to teach it?

Well, it’s all about stories. I think that stories are interesting and history is a story… you get to know the characters and what were they thinking and what sort of economic or cultural forces are shaping their thinking without they even knowing it. So much has changed in the last 200 years, which is the period we’re covering in tenth grade World History, to figure out how we got from that world to this world. There are lots of answers to that, and I don’t think anyone knows the real answer, but it’s still interesting to look at.


As a teacher, what do you need from your students to make the relationship between teacher and student function the best?

That’s a great question. I’m usually thinking about it more from my perspective- I need to be prepared, I need to know my stuff. As far as the students go, I think not being passive and receptive… it would be great if everyone had a little bit of skepticism and was not willing to accept things because that’s what the textbook says.


So to have their own view?

Or suspicion. Maybe not that’s not the whole story, maybe there’s something else they’re leaving out, you know, the creativity to think about what that could be.


As a teacher, do you sometimes feel overwhelmed and stressed as many students feel at times?

I think there’s a lot of stuff that goes into teaching that students don’t see. When I was a student, I just sort of assumed that the teacher shows up, and what happens in the class is pretty much what the teacher does, but there’s a lot that goes on. But, at Brookline, there’s a lot of support. If I have any questions, there are lots of other teachers that I can ask.


Leon Yang can be contacted at [email protected]