After almost 30 years of teaching, Lorraine Murtaugh still approaches her classes at Arlington's Yorktown High School with the excitement she had years ago.
And it is that excitement -- her passion for her job, her effective teaching techniques, and her love of children -- that helped her become Arlington's Teacher of the Year last week. Murtaugh was nominated to receive the award by her peers and won over nine other finalists.
The 52-year-old English teacher, an Oakton resident and a graduate of Wilson Teachers College in the District, has set a high teaching standard for herself that spurs admiration from colleagues and friends.
"A good parallel is that sometimes teachers can see a look in a student's eyes, a gleam of excitement. They get a feeling that the student is capable of great things," explained Mark Frankel, Yorktown's new principal. "You can see that look in Lorraine's eye. She is a charismatic person. She has an aura that radiates enthusiasm and excitement. She is doing what she loves and she loves what she's doing."
When she describes her teaching technique, it is clear that she does not consider her job tedious. It is her mission to make learning interesting and fun. Murtaugh is a great supporter of extracurricular activities as well. She is a sponsor of the freshman class and cosponsor of the student government, and was on the committee to choose a new principal. Although she enoys teaching all students, she especially enjoys working with those with learning difficulties.
"They need to build a confident self-concept. They have to believe they can do it," she said. "It's fun to watch them write well or speak well or read well. I accentuate the positive."
Currently, Murtaugh teaches English in the school's gifted and talented program. She shares a classroom with Sue Rafferty, who teaches history in the program and with whom she writes the curriculum. Rafferty has learned from her as well.
"She has a genuine love of kids. She is their biggest fan. She celebrates their victories and consoles them in their defeats," Rafferty said. "Her ability to take risks generates an atmosphere where it's okay to make mistakes."
Her risk-taking has gone as far as organizing educational games and contests in the classroom and even singing in student productions. Before becoming a teacher, Murtaugh was a performer in the USO and with a local band.
Jay Ness, Yorktown's assistant principal, has worked with Murtaugh since she started teaching there in 1978. (Before that, she taught English and business at Gunston Junior High School.) He emphasizes her ability to keep the students at ease. Her students don't feel threatened by her because they know she wants to help them.
"I have two daughters and I would be extremely pleased and proud for them to have her as a teacher. I would have been jubilant about it," Ness said. "When she teaches young people and one observes her, one can feel it's from the heart. There is nothing phony about her."
Her surprise at being selected Arlington's Teacher of the Year is also genuine. She was given the award last week at a meeting of almost 1,000 of the county's teachers.
"That was the longest walk I ever made in my life. I was facing my peers and it was very hard," she confessed.
Rafferty was afraid that her modest colleague might not accept the award. "She is not one to blow her own horn. She said there were better teachers in Arlington. I said, 'Accept it for all good teachers,' and I think that's why she accepted it."