Ms. Dunphy ends her final chapter in the classroom

By Gabrielle Kesh, Managing Editor

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Inside the door of room 726, an open conversation can be heard  in which students express their ideas and share their perspectives on various writing pieces. Some days students will be writing, some days taking tests and other days having a deep discussion about important life lessons that supercede the expectations of a traditional classroom. This environment is home to beloved English teacher Virginia Dunphy who, after teaching 33 years and 5 years as a West Essex Knight, is officially retiring.

Dunphy attended college at NYU and majored in journalism, planning to pursue a career in the field. But her junior year, a teacher recommended she go for a teaching certification. After claiming she had no interest and refuting the idea, she said she was eventually convinced that a teaching degree would be a great thing to have behind her.

“The first time I stood in front of a class and taught I knew it was for me,” Dunphy said.

Prior to teaching at West Essex, Dunphy spent years teaching in four of the NJ counties. She was at Mountain Lakes high school for 13 years and taught a variety of AP and honors English classes. When she was ready to leave Mountain Lakes, a teacher who was interviewing for a job at West Essex recommended she apply.

Within her five years at West Essex, Dunphy has juggled Creative Writing classes, junior English III classes and AP Literature and Language courses, and has been the adviser of the school literary magazine, The Round Table. Additionally, she has been involved in the WE connect program where she assists college-level students who have different needs from mainstream students.

“I have a deep appreciation for AP literature because I love fiction, but when I was put into AP Language, and I didn’t know if I really wanted it, I came to love it,” Dunphy said. “It has given me an awareness of people who speak to me and has made me read essays and editorials with a much more critical eye. It empowers me and it empowers my students.”

When first arriving at West Essex, Mrs. Dunphy said she expected to run the newspaper but ended up advising the literary magazine. She said she has had great staff and students over the years of which are very talented artists and writers. The literary magazine won multiple Gold Medalist awards from CSPA for the best overall magazine. Two of her students, Sonya Shah and Teddy Press, are currently volunteering for The Roundtable as their senior service.

“By the time I got to AP Language, I had known her outside the classroom and inside the classroom I found her to be even more impressive,” Press said. “She never sugar-coated our grades and was great at instilling values of grit and determination in each of us.”

“She has a tough reputation, but that makes me respect her even more,” Shah said. “I feel incredibly prepared to enter a college atmosphere.”

As Dunphy gets ready to leave, she said she is hopeful the teacher who picks up her work continues to allow students to write about what they believe in as long as they can argue effectively. She wants her students to be able to think critically and still be able to think differently than the teacher. She said she will miss the students the most and daily sharing she has been able to experience with them.

“There is not a day that goes by that I can’t laugh with the students,” Dunphy said. “They make teaching a really wonderful profession.”

In her absence, Dunphy leaves behind a legacy of accolades such as being recognized as the teacher of the year by the National Honor Society in 2019 and being noticed as an honorary member of the English National Honor Society in 2017. In addition, she says farewell to close relationships with faculty and staff at the school.

“She’s been a very good friend and I’m sorry to lose a member of the 700 club,” Mrs. Blanchard said.

  As for her future, Dunphy said she is leaning toward working with public education reform as her next job. She said it will be difficult to move on from the school environment, but she is excited for what’s ahead.

“Since I was 5 years old, I’ve been starting school in September,” Dunphy said. “It’s very strange to think I won’t be this time.”