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Paynesville Press - June 29, 2005

Rafferty retiring after 35 years of teaching math

By Michael Jacobson

After 35 years of teaching middle school and high school math - including 17 years in Paynesville - Murry Rafferty is retiring this year.

"I'm excited. I'm ready. I'm excited for a change in life," said Rafferty. Thirty-five years is enough of grading papers, correcting tests, etc., explained Rafferty.

Born and raised in North Dakota, where he went to a country school that had two kids in his eighth-grade class, Rafferty went to Dickinson State Teacher's College (now Dickinson State University), which had a strong education program, which led Rafferty into a teaching career. "Math was a natural choice for me because I was always good in math classes," he said. "I always picked it up easily."

rafferty He actually liked science better, he said, and taught some science over the years, but science classes took too much time in college, so he majored in math.

Murry Rafferty taught math for 35 years, including 13 years at Paynesville Area Middle School and four years at Paynesville Area High School.

His first teaching job was 7-12 math and science in Cyrus, where he stayed for three years. His first-year pay was $6,800 in Cyrus in 1970, and he was appointed by the five first-year teachers to ask the school board for a raise.

"We called it begging," he said of negotiating teachers' contracts before the formation of the teachers' union and the advent of collective bargaining. Since then, he has been involved in a half dozen teacher contract negotiations, including the past several in Paynesville.

After Cyrus, Rafferty taught 9-12 math (and some science) for ten years at Chokio-Alberta and then five years of 7-12 math at Jordan. He and his family moved to Paynesville in 1988, and he taught math for 13 years at Paynesville Area Middle School before moving to the high school for his last four years.

When he first stated teaching, teachers needed to coach for the extra income, he said. In addition to various junior high coaching positions, Rafferty has coached varsity track and baseball at Cyrus, varsity girls' basketball at Chokio-Alberta, and varsity softball at PAHS.

In the classroom, a focus for Rafferty is getting kids to understand the concepts. "Know why," he said. "Not just the answer."

It's a tremendous pleasure, he said, to see kids who truly understand. "The kids that want to learn," he explained. "The kids that listen. They question and don't take things at face value."

One of the biggest changes that Rafferty has seen during his 35-year teaching career is the time commitments of his students. "At the beginning of my teaching career, you'd rarely have a student say, 'I couldn't finish my homework because I worked a 4-10 shift,'" he said.

But nowadays, the time demands for students are enormous, he said.

Another big change was the start of athletics for girls in high schools, in the 1970s and 1980s, increasing the demands on their time.

Good students, said Rafferty, have time management skills.

And another big change was the introduction of computers. "That was really a very big change for schools," said Rafferty, who still was the computer coordinator for PAMS. In the early days, though, there wasn't much software for the computers, he explained, so he wrote his own code for everything from doing basketball stats to keeping grades. "It was just a machine," said Rafferty of the first school computers. "The only way you could make it do things was to write the code."

In math class, handheld calculators, which Rafferty supports as long as kids understand the concepts, have become common, replacing the slide rule, which Rafferty took as a college course to learn how to use.

Rafferty won't miss top-down management by the state and federal governments in education. Schools are being given a greater gamut of responsibilities for students, said Rafferty, while they actually only control a fraction (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) of their students' lives. And funding for education has not matched the increased responsibilities expected from it, he said.

He expects the first three months of retirement will seem like a normal summer. He and his wife, though, do have a trip planned to Alaska in July to visit his brother.

In the fall, Rafferty expects to have more time for golfing, hunting, and fishing. He expects to take some time to reflect and refresh his mind, he said, but then might consider a part-time job, possibly even as a substitute teacher.

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