2019 update: Murch teacher Karen Levy is retiring after 32 years.
by Donna LaPorte Scharpf
Updated and reprinted with permission from MurchSchool.org
Where were you in 1987? Karen Levy was here at Murch. That’s right, she’s been here a quarter of a century. We asked this veteran fifth grade science, writers workshop, and homeroom teacher about some of her favorite memories and for some tips on how to settle into the Mustang groove.
First things first: Where are you from?
I was born in New York and lived there until I was 10, when our family moved to Pennsylvania.
What brought you to DC?
I studied elementary education at American University. Then I received my master’s degree in education/curriculum and instruction from George Washington University.
Did you always believe you wanted to go into teaching?
Yes, even as a child played “class” with my Barbie dolls, gave them different names and even made up a class list. My mother was a teacher in New York City and always told stories about her school. I was also a camp counselor for many years, and I decided that I really liked working around kids.
So, you really have been here since 1987?
Yes, I began in February of that year because a teacher left mid-year.
What keeps you going?
There are so many great moments, some funny and some serious. One funny memory was when a student found a potato chip that had an image of an almost-perfect heart shape. The kids were excited about it and made me save the chip in a special place in the classroom because they wanted me to sell it on the Internet and have the class share the money. We never actually did it, but it was fun sharing ideas about who would buy it and how our class would spend the “chip money”!
Another great time was when we brought the fire trucks to Murch. I’m a volunteer firefighter/rescuer in Maryland. I have been on many emergency calls on fire trucks and ambulances, and I still stay active in the fire department helping with training and other tasks. Several years ago, I brought one of our fire trucks down to Murch with a fellow firefighter, and we showed the equipment to the kids. We even put up the ladder and got some playground balls off the roof.
That must have been a riot. What has been your greatest challenge?
There are many challenges to teaching but being able to really get to know and recognize the talents of each student and individualize instruction is hard to do. I also love doing read-alouds in class, and it’s difficult to find the time to fit it in every day.
What other special tricks have you found that worked in the classroom?
I enjoy teaching little songs or poems to help students remember new concepts or practice skills. Even though some of the songs seem silly and kids make fun of them at first, I catch the students singing them in the hall or at recess so I know that they remember them.
Are you very musical?
I love to play the piano. During my first few years at Murch, I had a job on some weekends playing piano in a small restaurant near Middleburg, Virginia. I got such a kick out of being paid to sit and play songs on the piano. I’d love to see instrumental music in the school.
Teaching is a lot about performing.
That’s really true. One summer I learned to juggle and I decided to audition for Clown College (there really is such a place) in Florida. My parents were really happy that I didn’t get in.
And you’re a parent yourself.
I adopted my daughter from China when she was almost 1. Now she is 5 and 1/2 and starting kindergarten this August. She is truly a gem, and I enjoy trying to keep up with her.
Since you’ve seen families come and go since 1987, do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to new and returning Murch families on how to settle in and feel part of the Murch community?
Getting involved is a great way to feel more connected at Murch. There are some nice opportunities for both parents and students to help out or meet other people such as working on the Fall Fair or another activity. I know that, as a teacher, when I worked on various committees or served on LSRT, I enjoyed getting to know families throughout the school, not only those families of students in my class. While Murch is a city school, it often has a “small-town” feel, which makes it unique.
Finally, how would you finish this sentence: “If I weren’t a teacher, I’d be…”
…an adoption advocate/specialist to help people through the adoption process or a keyboard player in a rock band.