A decade into my career in education and I felt as though I had checked off all the goals I set way back when I was a novice teacher. I had survived the first year, while meeting, and dating my now wife. Next, I had earned a master’s degree in curriculum design and instruction and then delved into earning a second master’s degree in special education. I added to my skillset by becoming certified in special education, ESOL and school administration. The final box on my list was to achieve National Board Certification (eight years into teaching).
But now what do I do? I hit the milestone of ten years in the classroom and I felt like there was nothing left for me to achieve. The product of a goal driven society left me passionate about teaching students my content, history, but without my own personal carrot to chase. For some time, I felt like I would have to leave the classroom in order to develop a new list of goals. But school administration or curriculum design were not what I was passionate about. So, where was my passion and could I create my own new goals, while remaining the classroom? Luckily, I had mentors at school and at home, and the reflection of the National Board process to help guide me towards creating a new checklist of goals for my next decade in the classroom.
My name is Chris Murray and I am one of the many proud teachers teaching religion in our public schools. In 2014, having recently submitted my fourth entry for National Board certification, I reflected on what I was passionate about – something to which I would dedicate my second decade in the classroom.
But as I began to search for my next career I soon realized that I could create my own leadership role within the field of religious studies without having to surrender my position in the classroom. As I continued creating lesson plans for both my world religion and world history classes I began to reach out to individuals and organizations outside of the world of education and started conversations with non-education based organizations on the frontlines, people who were addressing the topics that I was teaching about. Armed with Google and Twitter, I began to introduce myself and my students to dozens of NGO directors, journalists, and religious leaders. What I found were many eager experts, seeking classroom teachers with whom they could work to implement strategies in the classroom, share their perspective and collect feedback.
In the modern atmosphere of fear of teaching religion in the public schools, these partnerships actually strengthened my will to teach this content and gave my course great credibility that is difficult to fight. Now after three years of working closely with some of the finest minds in the field of religious literacy, I have been able to use this momentum to design and pitch State of Maryland’s first ever district level course on religious literacy for teachers.
Creating a course for fellow teachers had not been on my to-do list, but now I have been able to find a leadership role in education without having to leave the classroom. I get to continue to teach my five classes and still have a seat at the table with religious scholars and leaders, like the Secretary of Education (twice). I’m proud to work with experts in the field and with my students – watching dreams become goals and goals becoming realities.