Miami-Dade named its teacher of the year. She’s facing an extraordinary battle herself.

Miami Herald | by Colleen Wright | February 4, 2021

In a school year like no other, nothing fazed Spanish Lake Elementary teacher Teresa Murphy.

After 27 years of teaching, Murphy saw online learning as a blank canvas. She was energized by the freedoms and possibilities it afforded.

Then during the pandemic, she was diagnosed with breast cancer just before the first day of school. Murphy taught right through the chemotherapy and radiation. She used Snapchat filters and Zoom backgrounds to hide the sights and sounds of her treatment. Her fourth-grade students were none the wiser until recently.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools condensed its annual ceremony into an hour-long pre-recorded event that was streamed on YouTube. Murphy set up a projector in her Hialeah backyard to safely watch under the stars, flanked by past and present teaching colleagues who had a hunch.

“We are virtually unstoppable!” she said in her taped acceptance speech.


Teresa Murphy reacts after being named the 2022 Francisco R. Walker Teacher of the Year for Miami-Dade County Public Schools on February 4, 2021. Jose A. Iglesias JIGLESIAS@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

“Most of all, my gratitude needs to go to each and every child in Miami-Dade County Public schools that has graced my path,” she added. “It is because of you that I am here today. It is because of you that I strive to improve each and every day. It is because of you that I continue to love what I do, 27 years later.”

Off script, Murphy was breathless. Friends who couldn’t be with her phoned in their congratulations.

“I’m excited, I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I did not expect this at all. Everyone here did.”

Teresa Murphy reacts to being named the 2022 Francisco R. Walker Teacher of the Year for Miami-Dade County Public Schools on Thursday, February 4, 2021. Jose A. Iglesias JIGLESIAS@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

Murphy has touched hundreds, if not thousands, of lives throughout her career. In her three decades she has taught at West Little River Elementary, Ben Sheppard Elementary, Pine Lake Elementary, Gulfstream Elementary, Dante B. Fascell Elementary, Kendale Lakes Elementary and, most recently, worked with at-risk third-graders at Spanish Lake Elementary in Hialeah.

A product of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Murphy graduated a year early to graduate in place of her brother, who died in a car crash. She majored in early childhood education at Florida International University and taught kindergarten for 15 years until her administrators thought her talents would be a better fit for older grades. She’s helped students boost their scores on standardized tests from a 1, the lowest score, to a 4 or 5, the highest.

The ceremony lauded all educators making their way through an unprecedented, pandemic-stricken school year. Similar to past ceremonies, the ceremony featured video messages of congrats and a taped dance performance from students at Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts.

Murphy competed with fellow regional winners Candice Morris, a third-grade teacher at Goulds Elementary in South Miami-Dade, and Denise White, a science teacher at the Juvenile Justice Center School, who teaches science to incarcerated middle and high school students.

Yolette Mezadieu, a business education teacher at Miami Edison Senior High, was named the teacher of the year runner-up. (All four of the finalists made pre-recorded speeches in the event that they had won.)

Like a trial by fire, the school district recognized the 2021 rookie teacher of the year: Nerissa Manela, a music teacher at Morningside K-8 Academy. Erica Echeverri of TERRA Environmental Research Institute was the runner-up.

Though the ceremony was different, the grand prize remains the same: A 2021 Toyota Corolla from Kendall Toyota and $4,500.

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