Senior Set to Student Teach in Alaska Before Joining Peace Corps

Senior Leah Murfield poses in the mountains near Flathead, Montana.

Senior Leah Murfield has learned to just say yes.

The Brookings, South Dakota, native is packing her bags for Anchorage, Alaska, to student teach her final semester and, after a break this summer, she will fly to Macedonia to serve as a volunteer for the Peace Corps.

“It had been dropped in my ear early on in my educational career that some students had gone to Alaska and since then it’s really stuck with me. I haven’t thought about student teaching anywhere else,“ Murfield said.

Her reason for picking Alaska?

“It was just something new,” she said. “I’ve never been there, and it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”

Alaska is also one of the few states not teaching with the Common Core State Standards. As an education major, Murfield says this will be a challenge after studying the Common Core standards at Augustana.

“In some ways, it’s kind of scary; but it will be very interesting to see how I’m going to have to adjust what I’ve learned here and apply it to how they do things there,” she said.

Flying out on Jan. 27 to Anchorage, she will have less than a week to adjust before she begins teaching a sixth grade classroom. Luckily, Murfield says the school and her cooperating teacher have been very accommodating.

“My cooperating teacher contacted me to see if I had a place to live and then emailed the entire school to see if someone would help out,” she said. A second-grade teacher and her family volunteered to host her and Murfield happily accepted.

She has been using FaceTime to talk with her cooperating teacher and her class already and she has received letters from her students through Google Docs. After all the preparation, Murfield says she’s excited to finally get into the classroom.

“I’m most excited to work with my cooperating teacher to see what kind of input that she has. She’s already been emailing me saying things like, ‘today our kids had to come inside from recess because there was a moose on the playground!’ She’s been really personable and professional but she has this sort of spunk that she brings over to her classroom and I’m really interested to see how that plays out with lessons.”

With a class of 27 students, Murfield says she expects some challenges.

“I haven’t worked with a lot of classrooms that big and being with sixth grade is a new experience for me,” she said. “I’m most nervous for trying to keep them all focused and engaged.”

Not only will she have to adjust to a new curriculum, a new grade level and a new class size, but Anchorage will have fewer daylight hours than Sioux Falls for part of the period when Murfield is there from February to the middle of May.

“I’m really excited to live in beautiful Anchorage,” she said. “I’m really drawn to mountains and I know it’s going to be gorgeous, I’ll just have to adjust to the nighttime because it will be dark up there when I arrive.”

After adjusting to life in Alaska, Murfield will say “yes” to another adventure.

She departs for Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11 for orientation as a Peace Corps volunteer before flying out to Macedonia for a two-year commitment.

Murfield decided to tell the Peace Corps she was willing to go anywhere for her assignment and, much like Alaska, was open to new opportunities.

“I’ve always known that I didn’t want to go straight into teaching in a classroom in the United Sates,” she said.

Her brother was a Peace Corps volunteer as well and Murfield believes the seed to do this was planted by him. He was placed in Ukraine and she remembers what it was like visiting him on the job.

“I absolutely loved it and it was fun to see him working there. I try to be traveled. I take the opportunities when I can.”

She will put her teaching skills to use through the English Development Program in Macedonia and will work primarily with elementary school children but also has the chance to work with older students and adults.

“It will be really great to see a new perspective on education,” she said. “And in general, it will be a really good time for figuring out who I am.”

Nervous about the language aspect, Murfield says there’s a good chance she’ll have to learn both Macedonian and Albanian.

“Trying to tackle two languages in two years is tough, but it’s cool to think I could be fluent in them.”

Her openness to trying new things has grown in the past year and Murfield says a friend recently sent her an article about “just saying yes” that resonated well.

“Just saying yes is really the attitude I’ve taken toward doing [student teaching in Alaska and the Peace Corps] and even little day-to-day things. It’s easy to say, ‘No, I’m just going to stay in my bed and sit on Facebook,’ instead of going bowling with my friends or something, but ever since I’ve been accepted to these two things, I’ve been realizing what opportunity can come with just saying yes.”

“That’s been my mindset when I do these things is, ‘why not?’ I have nothing holding me back so I just want to take all these opportunities that are presented to me.”