A teacher assigns Spanish stations to her students

Murphy Earns Iowa World Language Association Award

West Des Moines Community Schools Spanish teacher Amy Murphy was named the Outstanding Elementary Educator of the Year by the Iowa World Language Association (IWLA). The award is given to the teacher who demonstrates the most exemplary work in the classroom and provides outstanding service to the profession in the state of Iowa. Murphy was chosen for the award based on her teaching, professional growth, and leadership experiences.

Murphy starts her class by assigning stations.

Murphy starts her class by checking student work.

Murphy teaches grades 1-6 at Fairmeadows and Western Hills elementary schools, going into classrooms twice each week. She has been teaching with the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) for eight years and has also taught at Clive and Crossroads elementaries. She is the World Languages department chair for the WDMCS, and is a member of the district’s Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) team.

Murphy teaches her classes almost entirely in Spanish. She aims to align the Spanish curriculum with what students are learning in their main classroom curriculum as well, to provide context for the Spanish lessons. The 30-minute lessons focus on language skills, but also on Spanish culture.

Two students play a matching game that enforces Spanish skills.

Two students play a matching game that enforces Spanish skills.

“I love the fast pace and being able to go into all the classrooms,” Murphy said. “I really enjoy teaching the culture to them because I feel like that’s really opening their eyes and teaching them new things.”

Murphy is also an advocate of technology in the classroom. As a FLES team member, Murphy helped to lead a study group on implementing iPads in the classroom. Each teacher has five to six iPads to use in the classroom, and Murphy uses hers as one of four centers students rotate through.

“I try to keep up with the latest technology,” she said. “I’m in the classroom for such a short time, so I try to grab their attention with something.”

One student practices vocabulary on the iPad.

One student practices vocabulary on the iPad.

Students use apps and games that help to enforce Spanish skills like vocabulary and comprehension. A current student favorite is iFunFace, which they use to practice describing themselves in Spanish. Murphy said the app is also a good way to demonstrate classroom learning to parents, as students can send pictures to their families.

Murphy started her own Spanish journey with a different language: French. She got a basic introduction to French in first grade, then took an exploratory Spanish course in sixth grade. She continued to takeSpanish  in high school and college. As a teacher, Murphy’s involvement in the district and statewide FLES led Tammy Dann, a fellow WDMCS Spanish teacher and mentor to Murphy, to nominate her for the IWLA award.

Murphy points out a potential solution to some students at the computers.

Murphy points out a potential solution to some students at the computers.

“(Amy) has an excellent understanding of the best strategies to use to teach early language learners,” Dann said in her nomination letter. “She works hard to stay in the target language and uses a variety of tools and strategies to do this. Amy is patient and kind, creating an environment in her classroom where every child can feel safe and be successful.”

Murphy was honored and surprised by the award, and sees it as motivation to continue working with her students and searching out new and better teaching strategies. She also appreciates the growing importance of knowing more than one language in the current job market and global economy.

“I’m always excited for my job because so few districts have this opportunity for their kids,” she said.  “It’s exciting to give them a step up.”