Heaps of History: Springwood teacher wins AISA secondary teacher of the year

Published 10:00 am Saturday, April 20, 2024

Walking into Mr. Murphy Wood’s classroom is a bit like walking into a small history museum or a used bookstore. The Springwood Social Studies teacher has quite literally immersed himself in his favorite field of study, the American Civil War. 

From every one of his students’ seats, there is a view of wall-to-wall decorations of war and historical memorabilia. It is a fitting atmosphere for the Alabama Independent School Association’s 2024 Secondary Teacher of the Year to educate Springwood’s youth. 

Wood, an educator of 23 years, will be traveling to Montgomery on Wednesday to be distinguished not just among his colleagues but across the whole state. 

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“I was really flattered,” Wood said. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

Wood has been teaching at Springwood for 13 years with 23 total years in education. But before he was a teacher, he was a student of Springwood. He said his time at Springwood prepared him for his future.

“It changed my life,” he said. 

So coming to work at Springwood “felt like coming home.” 

In his classroom, Wood is also surrounded by books. His bookshelves are packed to the brim and even more stacks of books sit on his desk. Whether it falls to his passion for history or being raised by two teachers, reading is one of the pleasures of his life. It has also helped him stay fresh and a continual source of knowledge for his students. 

“The way I look at it is, every time you read something, you get another thread of knowledge,” Wood said. “And then a time will come when all this knowledge begins to fuse.” 

In addition to his Social Studies and history classes, Wood teaches a Senior Seminar class. It’s essentially a crash course on life, relationships and building endurance to challenges. Guided by pastor Andy Stanley’s message, Wood encourages students to find purpose and growth in themselves.

“Instead of trying to find someone who fills this hole in you, and all the things that will be made right by finding the right person, his point is to become the right person,” Wood said. “When you become the right person, you become the person that you’ve been looking for.”

At the end of the class, many students’ evaluation papers are sprinkled with things like “huge impact on my life,” “the most influential teacher” and “taught me so much about life and relationships.” 

That opportunity to get real with his students, Wood said, is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

“They’re so far ahead of their peers,” Wood said. 

In turn, teaching his students has given him a sense of purpose that Wood said he could not have filled in any other profession. 

“This [job] really takes everything you’ve got,” Wood said, “… But you do have a deep satisfaction that you really have made a difference, at least in some people’s lives.”

Wood, an avid Faulkner fan, recently taught a course on the author at Point University as a joint English-History course. His interest led him to submit a paper to the annual University of Mississippi Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference one year. Wood has made a study of slavery for 20 years, and that year’s conference was on Faulkner and Slavery.

Speaking at the conference in a room filled with history professors and Faulkner experts, Wood said, was another one of the biggest moments of his career. 

“I just kind of paused and thought, ‘Man, this is the biggest thing I’ll ever do,” he said. 

When he’s not teaching or studying history, Wood likes to give guided tours of Civil War battlefields. Before moving home to Springwood, he and his family lived in Virginia. It was there that he got his Master’s degree from James Madison University and became a summer tour guide for the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society. 

“I never really stopped being a tour guide. I still do it to this day,” Wood said, “Because I know the site so well.”

Over the years, Wood said the way we teach history has evolved just like everything else. Looking back at historical figures with a modern lens has often meant reevaluating their historical context if not their impact. 

Like with most subjects worth studying, Wood said that American history is complicated and things aren’t black-and-white. However, it’s still important to learn it. Only time will tell how teaching and learning history will continue to evolve, Wood said. 

“I’m just passionate about education and about people wanting to learn,” Wood said. 

“I’m not really seeking awards. I mean, they’re nice,” Wood said. “… [the students] are why I do it.”