Chuck Murphree, a cross-categorical teacher at Waunakee High School, strives to be the teacher he wishes he had in high school. As a child he suffered trauma and acknowledges that he hadn’t been a very good student and could get into trouble. Although he was more focused his senior year, his guidance counselor told him he didn’t have many choices post high school. It was either the military or M.A.T.C. He chose both.
Since childhood, he has struggled with depression and later in life, anxiety. In his 20s, in addition to serving in the military, he also worked with adults with development disabilities. When he was 30, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in business, but would finally find his passion as an educator a few years later after suffering a devastating loss. One day he was talking with a close friend, who encouraged him to become a teacher. That same friend, who struggled with his own mental health issues, took his life shortly thereafter.
His friend’s death was very painful for Murphree, but his words continued to resonate with him, even though Murphree had some self-doubts about becoming an educator.
“I didn’t believe in myself enough to go be a teacher because I was never a good student,” he said. But he ultimately did, graduating from Edgewood College with a certification in special education.
Upon graduation, he taught at Marshall High School in 2007, working with children with emotional and learning disabilities. He cultivated his philosophy of developing strong relationships with students while there – something he wished he had while in school. During this time, he began and later completed a master’s degree in educational leadership with a Principal license.
After Marshall High School, he worked at both the Verona and Edgerton school districts before his roles at the Middleton-Cross Plains school district, first as a Dean of Students at Middleton High School in 2014 and later teaching at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains. As dean, he often had to handle disciplinary issues, but also tried to serve as the students’ advocate to help them make better decisions.
In the fall of 2018, Murphree was offered a position at Waunakee High School as a cross-categorical teacher working with students with all types of disabilities. He loves it there. In addition to his teaching role, he has had the opportunity to speak with students in health classes, as well as at “teen talks” off campus about his struggles with anxiety and depression. He has suffered many losses with both family members and friends by suicide and other causes, and all have had a tremendous effect on him. A strong advocate for removing the stigma for those struggling with mental health, he said, “If I can share my story with people that are dealing with depression and anxiety so they don’t feel alone, that’s huge.”
Separately, he saw an opportunity to improve equity and inclusiveness at the high school. He has been instrumental in establishing a Black Student Union (BSU) after realizing the need for these students to have a safe place to share experiences and support one another. When he asked a group of students if they wanted to start the BSU and how they felt about Murphree, a white man, leading it, they responded, “Mr. Murphree, who else is going to do it?” He said the BSU has been very empowering for the students and he enjoys it immensely as well.
Murphree tries to stay as healthy as possible for both his physical and mental health. He practices yoga and mindfulness, exercises outdoors, eats well, reads, and writes. In fact, he has written a Young Adult novel, called “Everything that Makes Us Feel,” about a high school student who loses his brother to suicide. He has a publisher and the book is set to launch later this spring.
“I hope that teens can relate to the book and understand these tough subjects more,” he said.
Murphree and his wife, Karen, are high school sweethearts. She is an instructional coach in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District and they live in Prairie du Sac. They enjoy traveling together and their dogs, and he appreciates how supportive she is of him.
He hopes being open about mental health struggles will help others.
“I never want anyone to give up,” he said.