Spotlight: Lisa Richard (OR '16)March 15, 2017
Lisa Richard (OR '16) loves teaching third-grade math because each problem offers so many different paths to the same solution. She focuses students on the process rather than the answer: "What strategy did you choose?" Lisa received Oregon's 2016-17 Milken Educator Award at Pioneer School in Lebanon on December 13, 2016.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Lisa Richard: I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I remember thinking I wanted to be just like my second-grade teacher when I grew up. I definitely had some bumps and roadblocks along the way to my career, but with the love and support of some really great people, I ended up in a college classroom 14 years after high school. It was scary and intimidating at first, but I found my way and I really liked the college experience.
MEA: Why elementary school?
Lisa: After loving college and the math courses I took, I actually thought I would land at the middle-school level teaching math and science. Instead, the school where I had done my student teaching—and where I continue to teach today—offered me a second-grade classroom, and I grabbed it. I have loved elementary school ever since. I still have an incredible passion for mathematics, so it works out great that I get to teach it alongside many other wonderful subjects.
I have so many favorite things about the age of the kids I teach! Highest on that list are the eagerness and excitement they come to school with every day. They are always bursting with joy and happiness, and they are so eager to share stories with me and to include me in what is happening in their lives. Kids are so funny and smart. They really want to learn and are not afraid to show excitement when they finally get a new concept or skill they have been working on. I just love spending my days with little people.
MEA: What was your first job?
Lisa: My very first job was at a grocery store. I started working there when I was 14 and stayed there for eight years. I worked my way up from courtesy clerk to what was called a PIC (Person In Charge). I loved the day-to-day change of pace that the store provided—I never had the same day twice.
After having both of my babies I decided to stay home to take care of them and opened up a daycare. I loved this time of my life, spending such precious moments with sweet little babies. I know that I carry into the classroom my realization that every kiddo on my roster is someone's most precious gift. I strive to treat every student the exact same way I would want my own children treated.
MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?
Lisa: Mrs. Bird, second grade. One day she noticed—before anyone else did—that I had gotten my ears pierced. I had seen at least a dozen people before her, but she noticed first and made me feel as though my earrings were the most beautiful ones in the whole world. She winked at me several times that same day and I just knew that I was her most favorite student ever.
MEA: Any educators in your family?
Lisa: I have several extended family members who are involved in education. Oh my goodness, if you could hear the amazing conversations we have when we get together! It is so uplifting to share a story or a struggle with someone and to find that the same exists for them. How rewarding to work together to come up with a strategy or some new "trick" to try out, and how great to be able to come back with the fact that it did work! Thank you, family!
MEA: What subjects did you like (or not)?
Lisa: Without a doubt, math is my most favorite subject. I was actually many courses behind in mathematics when I began my college career, but I worked hard and made huge gains in the skills I was lacking. My favorite part about math is that you can always find many ways to the solution—different brains, different paths. It's so fulfilling. Everyone can be right as they work their way down the path that works for them. I love learning how my own students found their way to the answer. "What strategy did you choose?" is a question you hear often in my classroom.
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Lisa: I will never forget that first group. My energy level and excitement were through the roof! I had accomplished my lifelong dream and there I was, right smack in the middle of 24 beautiful, just as eager second-graders. I felt like the luckiest person in the world and still do. Every new year, every new roster, is so special because you know that you get to impact the life of a child in a way that will remain with them for many years to come. I promise myself every time to be the person they will look back on and remember as someone who made a positive difference in their life.
MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Lisa: It has been so much fun to listen to the kids as they reflect on that amazing all-school assembly. They carry so much pride for me and are so happy for me. Many have said, over and over, that they knew it was going to be me. It's as though they were awarded too—they are mine, and because of that my Award is theirs. I am so happy to share that spotlight with every student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. I am truly blessed.
MEA: What do you hope your students remember about you and their time in your class?
Lisa: I hope, with every part of me, that my kids know that I had their backs when they were mine, and I have their backs to this day. They will always be my students. They will always hold a special place in my heart—every single one of them.
I have been so blessed by the visits I receive daily from at least a dozen kids who have moved on from their time in second grade. It is so awesome to hear them call out, "Hi Mrs. Richard! How was your day? You are still my favorite!" as they make their way to the bus at the end of the day. I just beam as I look back at kids who are now almost as tall as I am: "You are still my favorite too, sweet boy!" The looks between us speak volumes as they make their way with perhaps a little more confidence than they already had.
MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?
Lisa: What would I do without the amazing families I have? My door is wide open and every one of my families would tell you that they are encouraged to join us anytime they are able. I have had the best of families every year and I can honestly say that I have no needs that are not met when it comes to the learning of my students.
I love to encourage my families to participate in all of the activities that take place both inside and outside the walls of our classroom. I have parent helpers for every field trip as well as several who love to help with holiday parties and special events. I use a program daily that connects school to home and allows family members to view videos and pictures of our learning as it unfolds each day. My families know that they can reach out to me anytime, day or night, should they need to—and I will be there.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Lisa: When I meet my students in the cafeteria as they are finishing up their breakfast at the start of each day. They are always so excited to see me, giggling and coming in for hugs. I am truly so blessed to spend my days with such amazing little people. Who wouldn't want their day to start with two dozen happy-to-see-you eight- and nine-year-olds?
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?
Lisa: Trying to meet each of my students at their own academic, social and emotional level. Every one of my kiddos comes to school with an entirely different set of needs, and every one of my students deserves for those needs to be met. I don't mind the challenge: Learning what my kids need only draws me closer to them at the same time that it opens the doors of trust and mutual respect.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?
Lisa: My heart beats faster just thinking about it! I would start by doubling the number of people who spend their days interacting with and inspiring the children. I would reduce the size of the classroom roster and quadruple the funds available to every teacher to develop lessons that kids are excited to be part of.
I would bring in experts to design technology opportunities for kids regardless of the form those came in. And I would bring in hundreds of people each school year whose backgrounds would enhance the backgrounds and learning of every child at Pioneer.
I would stop asking families to provide the tools their kids need at school—paper, pencils, erasers, notebooks, glue sticks, etc. Easing this burden on families would come back to the school exponentially as they showed their appreciation through volunteering opportunities and school support conversations at home.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Lisa: I am confident that if the world of education had not opened up for me I would still be spending joyful days providing safe and loving care to children as their parents went to work, knowing that their babies were in good hands.
MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?
Lisa: Our nation needs to value educators in the same way as athletes, or better. I am not saying that athletes do not deserve the recognition they get. I am simply saying that educators should be put on the same platform. We are changing the course of the future when we connect with children who trust us. We are changing the course of the future when students learn they really can do anything they put their minds to. We are changing the course of the future when a once-beaten-down little person reaches out to accept the help of a caring and compassionate adult. Our nation needs to hold Hall of Fame honors for those of us who believe in a child when the rest of the world forgets to.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."
Lisa: ...when 12 years later they still call me their favorite.
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