After 44 years of teaching, Ms. McNulty has officially decided to retire from Oakland Catholic High School. Lovingly called “McNult” by her former students, Ms. McNulty is an inspiring teacher and avid traveler who left a lasting impact on the OC community. Known for her enthusiasm in and out of the classroom, she was the kind of teacher who would say “hi” to students in the halls whether she knew them personally or not. Throughout her years as an educator, Ms. McNulty bestowed her knowledge and wisdom about the world with her students and encouraged them to stand up for what they believe. Many of the lessons she taught influenced multiple generations of families who had the privilege of learning from her. Mary Laird ‘20 commented on how Ms. McNulty impacted her own family saying, “I had heard all about Ms. McNulty’s classes from my mom, sister, cousins, and aunts, so I was very excited to have her as a teacher. Ms. McNulty brings the material to life by her genuine interest and care about the subjects she teaches. Her legacy is well-earned since she has inspired family after family to thoughtfully engage with their communities.”
Speaking from experience, class with Ms. McNulty was hardly ever dull. Her passion for what she taught was evident through the various photos and stories from her travels abroad, primarily to China and Southeast Asia (her favorite region). If the bell ever cut class short, she was always willing to meet with students outside of class time to continue a discussion or to help them with an assignment. A valued teacher and mentor at OC, Ms. McNulty orchestrated the Global Competence Initiative (GCI), a club that addresses the need for a globally competent workforce through student engagement in the local and global community. She enjoyed spearheading GCI because the club’s structure allowed her to incentivize students to go out and broaden their worldviews. In addition to her involvement with GCI, Ms. McNulty also organized ski club trips in her early teaching years. She joked that she sometimes cleans her house and classroom in her old ski club sweatshirt!
A lifelong learner herself, Ms. McNulty understands the value of education, but she also knows that some things in life are far more important than essays and tests. Many students recall a time in which Ms. McNulty gave them an extension on an assignment so they could focus on getting through a difficult time. The way Ms. McNulty prioritized the needs of her students is a true testament to her character.
I had the opportunity to interview Ms. McNulty to learn more about her years of teaching, the lessons she has learned, and her hopes for the future:
How many years did you teach in total? How many at OC?
“That’s complicated. I did my student teaching at Sacred Heart HS in the winter of 1976 (Molly McCrackin’s mother was one of my students) and returned there part time in the winter of 1977. I got my full time position there in the fall of 1977, so I have been teaching for 44 years total.
My time at OC was in two shifts. When we merged Sacred Heart and Cathedral, creating OC, I taught here for the first two years and then took a sabbatical to live in China for a year, where I taught a semester of conversational English to college students in Shanghai. OC constricted 5 teachers at the end of that school year (1991-92) and I was one of them. Subsequently, I spent a year at Canevin and a year at Central before returning to OC in the 1994-95 school year. I’ve been here since. So I have taught at OC for 27 years.”
What classes have you taught over the years and which was your favorite?
“At OC I have taught Freshman English, American Literature, British Literature, World Literature, American History, World History II, AP World History, AP Language and Composition, AP Human Geography, and Introduction to Global Studies. At SH [Sacred Heart], Canevin, and Central I also taught Science Fiction, AP Literature and Composition, the Novel, Public Speaking, Writer’s Seminar, Journalism, and a leadership course. While I have loved teaching World Lit and AP Lang, my favorite is AP Human Geo/Global Studies (the courses are very similar). I think these are the most important courses I have taught.”
What is the most important lesson you have learned from teaching?
“There are two key things I hope my students understand: first, that the world and its people are very complex and second, that we have a moral obligation to put our knowledge at the service of justice. World Lit always offered a way to explore the complexities of human behavior, beliefs, and values, as did the Culture unit in AP Human Geo. As for knowledge – the big test – the measure of our educational achievement, is not grades or awards – but rather how we live, knowing what we do. How should we live once we know about the plight of refugees, the inequalities in housing, the threat of climate change, and the fact that it will first, and most severely, impact the poor? History is a contested narrative, national borders are human constructs, and global competence is not something we ever achieve entirely. It is something we must constantly strive for because understanding the human condition is a life long journey.”
What are your plans for retirement?
“Most of my immediate plans are on hold, but I have been researching trips to Northern Ireland, to see how Brexit will shape the tensions between the loyalists and the nationalists, and to Shanghai, to see some of my favorite neighborhoods before they disappear in the rush of development. I hope to do lots of biking and reading, take classes at Pitt [in global studies, literature, film, and maybe even Chinese]… and pay visits to friends spread across the US and the wide world. I want to volunteer at the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and will look for some similar groups who could use my skill set.”
What are your favorite memories from OC?
“I have more memories than I could ever list, so let me just say this… When I sit at graduation, and students cross the stage one by one, I always try to capture the thing I will remember most about them. It’s one reason I love graduation. I guess I would have to add one other recent memory. The evenings when we hold the Global Showcase (even virtually) always makes me feel incredibly proud of the scholars and what they have achieved.”
From over four decades of teaching, Ms. McNulty “came to believe in women’s education.” When she was initially offered a position to student teach at Sacred Heart, she was not enthusiastic about the all-girls aspect. However, now she is convinced that single-gender education at the high school level is enormously beneficial, especially because it allows young girls to hold leadership positions at a vulnerable age. She also believes that the teachers and administration at OC make the school incredibly special.
Generations of Oakland Catholic students and alumnae are so grateful to have learned from Ms. McNulty, and the feeling is mutual. When asked for her closing remarks about her time at OC, she stated, “I have been extremely fortunate in my career. It’s the students who have given my work, and my life, it’s meaning.” The OC community will definitely be different next year without Ms. McNulty greeting students in the halls or displaying inspirational quotes on her Smartboard at the start of class, but her legacy will continue on for years to come.