Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Lukas Hefty (FL '16)

March 9, 2017

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STEM specialist Lukas Hefty (FL '16) believes that engineering—the "E" in "STEM"—should be part of every classroom, beginning in kindergarten: "It provides a real-world platform for the application of science, mathematics and technology." Hefty received Florida's 2016-17 Milken Educator Award at Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Elementary in St. Petersburg on January 12, 2017.

Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?

Lukas Hefty: I switched my major from accounting to education at the end of my second year of college. I grew up loving math and numbers and as a kid connected those strengths to jobs in accounting or finance. I realized, though, that I needed to be in a dynamic field, one with opportunities for constant growth and change.

MEA: Why elementary school?

Lukas: My best memories from school are all from elementary, so naturally I was drawn to teach at that level. I love that young kids have so few preconceptions about what they can or cannot do. When we instill in them a growth mindset and important habits of mind, they become productive citizens who can do anything. Elementary teachers have to be adept with classroom management and understand all content areas to some extent, which can be stressful or frustrating at times.

MEA: What was your first job?

Lukas: Summer camp counselor. It helped me realize my love for working with kids and eventually led me to make the tough decision to switch majors.

MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?

Lukas: My favorite teacher ever was Mr. Wahl, my fifth-grade teacher. He made learning fun and exciting. Thinking about Mr. Wahl’s influence on my education as a male teacher gave me the courage to switch to elementary education.

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MEA: Any educators in your family?

Lukas: Yes, many, including my wife, mom and sister. I had the opportunity to attend the same elementary school where my mom was a teacher. I was in her classroom before and after school on a daily basis, and I saw firsthand the positive impact she was able to have on so many students and families. I now have the opportunity to teach where my kids go to school and hope they see me in the same positive light.

MEA: What subject did you like (or not)?

Lukas: I have always loved math. I am drawn to numbers and patterns. I enjoy the sciences where they connect to math. As a student, my most difficult subject was public speaking. I dropped out of public speaking class in college and remained terrified for years as a teacher. I tackled my fear by jumping into the fire, continually choosing jobs with increased leadership responsibility.

MEA: Tell us about your first class.

Lukas: I graduated midyear and began with my first class in December, for a retiring teacher. Everything about that partial year surprised me, as I had no idea what to expect. My most memorable moment was walking into my new classroom on Friday night, to prepare for my first Monday morning with the class, and finding piles and piles of worksheets all over the room. I heard rumors about the difficult student behaviors and their challenging backgrounds. Somehow I survived the year and started year two with what felt like years of experience!

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MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?

Lukas: It's been many weeks, and still every day students say something about the Award. As an adult, I have never seen anything like it, so I can only imagine what the students must have felt. I have no doubt it will impact their perception of the teaching profession, and hopefully their future employment decisions.

MEA: Why is STEM education so important for elementary school students?

Lukas: STEM Education has become cliché and has taken on many unproductive meanings. I focus on the "E" in "STEM"—engineering. Engineering education is important because it provides a real-world platform for the application of science, mathematics and technology. It should be a part of every classroom, during the school day, beginning in kindergarten.

MEA: What do you hope your students remember about you and their time in your class?

Lukas: I hope my students remember that I was no-nonsense, focused on learning, but also fun. I hope they look back on my class with many positive memories, but also that they carried with them important life skills—critical thinking, communication, etc.—that lead to future success.

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MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?

Lukas: Part of my job as magnet program coordinator involves connecting families and community partners with our classrooms. I provide school tours that showcase student engineering artifacts and plan Engineering Expos that highlight our program. I have helped to create an open school climate, where families are welcome, expected, and appreciated.

MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?

Lukas: I love the very beginning of each day. The morning provides an opportunity to start fresh, no matter what happened yesterday. And the best learning always happens in the morning.

MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Lukas: As a magnet school, we intentionally recruit a diverse family population, which offers great learning opportunities for our students. Our students enter school on so many different levels, however, it is challenging to meet the needs of every child.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use at your school, what would you do with it?

Lukas: I would have no idea how to spend a million dollars at one time, so I would set up a foundation. Teachers would have the opportunity to submit proposals and get funding for ideas.

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MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Lukas: Accounting or finance, at a nine-to-five job. I am glad I followed my gut.

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?

Lukas: Too much emphasis is placed on recruiting quality new teachers at the expense of elevating quality teachers we already have. Teachers should earn significant bonuses for earning master's degrees in-field, National Board Certification, and hitting experience milestones. We also need to revamp our in-service teacher programs, coordinating with school districts to produce better-prepared teachers upon graduation.

MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."

Lukas: students love coming to school every day.


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