Transformative Teacher Profile #9: Lisa Hantman

Gandhi-Be-the-Change-DoveLisa Hantman has transformed the lives of countless children over her 24 years of teaching in Philadelphia public schools. Moreover, she has changed the lives of entire communities through her work – and inspired many a teacher, myself included, to see the work of teaching as a project for social justice. I met Lisa through the Philadelphia Teachers Learning Cooperative when I was but a young, green teacher, right out of my teacher education program. Lisa’s descriptions of the ways she used books in her classroom to help her students to tackle issues in their community in a real and hands-on way opened my eyes to the possibilities of the work of teaching reading and writing. Lisa taught me that teaching was not about the kids sitting in front of me in the classroom, it was about us using the world as our classroom, and learning to become agents of change. I am so thankful to Lisa for the thoughtful, and deliberative effort she made into writing her profile for this project – it must have been so difficult to to summarize so many years of teaching and activism. Yet, she and I both agreed it was an important endeavor, for if just one other teacher (or reader) becomes inspired by her words, it was worth the effort.

Here is Lisa’s story, in her words:

1.Can you share a little background with us about your teaching career?

I have been a public school educator for twenty-four years, and had worked in education for ten years prior. I had a desire to be a school teacher from a young age, which was solidified, at the age of sixteen, upon reading books, on the shelves in my home, by Jonathan Kozol, A.S. Neal, and Paulo Freire. After reading these works, I felt a passion to change the world through the classroom. Growing up, I witnessed activism firsthand, and strongly believe it important for people of each generation to work to make the world equitable and better for all. I attempt to do that within the framework of my occupation.

I attended Bank Street College, in New York, for a masters degree in early childhood and elementary education. I have a a reading certification, as well. I belong to a number of professional teaching groups, feeling that I learn best from the stories of others. I am a member of The Philadelphia Teacher’s Learning Cooperative (over 30 years), The Philadelphia Writing Project (24 years), The Philadelphia Area Math Teachers Circle (2 years), Need In Deed (9 years), Need In Deed’s Advisory Board (8 years), and Need In Deed’s Inquiry Group (7 years). These groups allow me to explore my work and expand my ideas, as I am continually desiring to grow as an educator.

2. What motivates and sustains you as a teacher?

Over the years, I have, frankly, found the job to be quite difficult and stressful. I often have felt there is no reward and that I am giving of myself for no purpose. Yet, here I remain, dedicated and responsible and extremely hardworking. That is because, when I look closely, I can see the reasons I do what I do. Perhaps they are not easily seen, and I have such high expectations of myself, and extremely high hopes for change, that my purpose gets muddled. Yet, sustenance exists.

Over the years, I have been blessed with a number of students that keep in touch. They share their successes with me, many thanking me for being someone in their lives. Often, parents will mention a special thank you for something that occurred in class. When I see the progress a child makes in reading or math or behavior, I am grateful. When my students leave with statements of self empowerment, there is much gratification. Those personal connections, knowing I made a difference in these lives, is what most matters to me.

3. Needs to change/happen in our schools?

Well, this would really be a change in our society. Rather than greed being a guiding force, the caring for a society of equity and goodness would be my goal. We do not value education in our society. We value money, and the power of money, we value profit and education is not profitable. Nor should it be, as many are trying to make it. We are speaking about the lives of human beings, little ones, our future citizens of the United States of America. They are not tools in a political or economic game. Our schools need money to run well. We need people who are trained to work in our schools, and who are dedicated and passionate, or should not be there. We need to honor the work of the teacher. I feel, more and more, that to ward off the ill will towards teachers, higher education institutes should promote extremely rigorous curriculum, that teachers should be required to earn a doctoral degree, that those doing the hiring should be held accountable. Perhaps with this rigor, folks would be less apt to demean and denigrate teachers, as they do now.

Also, to keep us accountable, excellent administrators need to be hired and given the proper opportunities to do their job of supervising their staff. High stakes standardized examinations do not hold us accountable, and are a deplorable, money making business that I truly believe hurts our schools and our children.

If we care so much about success, let’s look closely at where it occurs. Private schools have smaller class sizes, more personnel and more resources. The staff is observed regularly. Since public school teachers must do their job, and often without home support, then funding, resources, and personnel are essential.

4. Something about which I am passionate, and incorporate?

I went into teaching believing it was a political stance. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of individuals and in my world. I am passionate about social justice, equity, honoring a child’s individuality and creativity and encouraging a love of books and curiosity and learning.I am passionate about empowering others to be aware, feel confident and believe in their citizen responsibility to impact their world and make it better for all.

My curriculum encompasses these values and my students engage in transformative active learning that encourages curiosity and creativity, a love of reading, a sense of self worth and a desire to engage in life long learning.

Each year my third graders embark on an intellectual journey through an intentional curriculum that incorporates the mandates and a service learning project. We study all we must amidst an in-depth unit of study. Within this study, we engage in a service learning project on a grand scale, which is completely child chosen. The children choose the topic, they research it, in-depth, through books, the Internet, trips, speakers, conversations, writing, experiments. As experts, they then choose a project. Examples of past projects include an antismoking museum running three days and having over 800 visitors, a caucus with our city council, a paper plate campaign for Senator Casey and conversation with State Representative Brian Sims. One group was invited to be the keynote speakers at the annual Pennsylvania conference on homelessness.

My students learn how to learn, feel the joy of being an expert, and the power to affect change.

5. Groups?

I currently am active with: The Philadelphia Teacher’s Learning Cooperative, Philadelphia Writing Project, Philadelphia Area Math Teacher’s Circle, Need In Deed, Need In Deed Advisory, Need In Deed Inquiry and the Pennsylvania Reading Association. I also am an active cooperating teacher. I am a Bank Street alumni and Fulbright Scholar, with occasional attendance at meetings. I used to be a member of Educator’s For Social Responsibility, The SEED program and a PhilWP Inquiry group. I have attended two National Endowment For Humanities programs. Also, I have recently been a part of a Cabrini College cohort and part of an online working group with The National Immigration Center. I also attend PhilaSoup.

These groups allow for a chance to be in a room, real or virtual, with other educators, and hearing their stories or the stance on topics or about their experiences, has always been the best learning for me. Also, it allows me to share my story, and when spoken aloud, there is a better chance for my growth.

From certain groups I have learned to do service learning projects with great depth and transformation, look with purpose at my students, and conduct inquiry which compels me to look closely at my work and my beliefs. I was offered marvelous experiences like teaching abroad or studying the work and life of Benjamin Franklin and Zora Neale Hurston.

Because of these groups my life is made broader and I am constantly growing, learning, changing, pondering, and finding ways to be the best teacher I can be.

6. Advice?

  1. Be kind to yourself AND push yourself, hard, to do your best.
  2. Always presume you can do better, and remember it is people with whom you work. They deserve your excellence.
  3. Find, at least, one compatriot in your school.
  4. Read and study new ideas.
  5. Try new things in class, each year, and know your goals and pedagogy well, before bombarded with mandates, and know your bottom line.
  6. Join groups of like minded folk.
  7. Surround yourself with brilliance and with scholarly people.
  8. If you are working only to the clock of the school day, you are not doing your job. If you became a teacher because of the hours or summer, find another job. If you lack tenderness for others, find another job. If you do not adore children, find another job. If you see teaching as a job, rather than an occupation [or more], find another job.
  9. Always try to push against a system with which you do not agree, but push gently and with care.

**About Transformative Teacher Profiles: TTPs are meant to “flip the script” and offer a counter-narrative to negative and dehumanizing stereotypes about teachers. Here you’ll read about truly transformative teaching, leadership, and inspiring work. The format is simple: I ask six questions of each teacher that I profile about their teaching and learning. If you know of amazing teachers that I should profile, please write me a comment below or send me a tweet about them!**


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