Spotlight: Lyndsay Hartmann (NE '19)February 10, 2020
Lyndsay Hartmann (NE ’19) may use some of her Milken Award prize to travel to Civil War sites and World War II museums to help enrich her history lessons. “Comprehending the issues and tragedies that took us to war is one of the best ways to avoid history repeating itself,” she says. “The greatest gift I can give to the future is citizens who have the skills to understand the world around them and acknowledge the potential impact they have.” Lyndsay won Nebraska’s 2019-20 Milken Educator Award at St. Patrick Catholic School in Lincoln on October 15, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: Tell us about your Reading Mentor program. How does it benefit both the older and younger students?
Lyndsay Hartmann (NE ’19): The Reading Mentor program is a passion project of mine. It started out as a way to just build a connection between the middle school and the elementary school and gain my students some life skills. My daughter was a preschooler at the time, and I thought it would be really cool if I could help the younger grades hear books read to them more often. I talked with the preschool, kindergarten, and first grade teachers and developed a schedule for my kids to come read the younger kids some stories. Some of the older kids loved it, others didn’t, but what I saw overall was an increase in enthusiasm from just about everyone. Even the older kids who didn’t love reading out loud to a little kid had a fun time interacting with them and having conversations. I got to see a different side of my students that I hadn’t seen before and it got my gears turning.
That first year, we just read to the younger grades a few times, but I knew I was on to something. I developed the Reading Mentor program from there, where students in seventh or eighth grade could apply to be a Reading Mentor for the kindergarten or first grade classrooms. I got feedback from the kindergarten and first grade teachers on what would benefit their students the most and gave my applicants some training on how to work with words and help emerging readers.
The qualitative results are out of this world. My students who used to struggle to find the motivation to read got excited about interacting with a younger child. They had more confidence. It allowed me to ask questions like, “What would you tell the kindergartener if they wanted to quit?” and help them find the perseverance they needed to grit through a tough assignment. They visualized themselves as role models and took on more leadership roles. They were more likely to volunteer and got involved in other areas of the school. These are the kinds of wins you don’t always see on paper, but make such a difference in the life of a student.
The quantitative results are also there. Student reading scores are up since the Reading Mentor program began. DRA [Developmental Reading Assessment] scores for students who are part of the Reading Mentor program have also seen a steady increase. I continue to search for and formulate ways to collect data to show the success of the program in numbers, but for now the results as they are speak to the success of the program both academically and socially.
Kindergarten and first grade teachers both have reported that the program has helped students with word recognition, letter-sound associations and motivation. The increase in confidence and enthusiasm in younger students is obvious, too. They get excited to see their Reading Mentors both during their reading meetings and throughout the school day. The Reading Mentors feel like celebrities when their reading buddies wave at them in the hallway or ask to play before or after school.
The relationships between older and younger students through reading stories together is one of my very favorite successes. Watching my students grow into people who are willing to give back and take on leadership roles is an amazing thing to see. They will take that experience with them to high school and beyond. I hope it inspires them to mold the world they are inheriting into a place we can all be proud of.
MFF: What do you like about middle school students?
Lyndsay: There is so much to love that I never knew until I started teaching them! I actually went into teacher’s college thinking that I was going to teach third or fourth grade, so I had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to teach middle school. Teaching third or fourth grade appealed to me because they are the first years where the kids aren’t so little anymore and it feels like you can do a lot with them, but they still have a lot of natural curiosity and creativity.
Middle schoolers are still like that, only with bigger and more awkward frames. Most of them are taller than me by the time I send them off to high school! That awkwardness is so loveable. They aren’t just growing into their bigger frames, but overall they are starting to figure themselves out and how they fit into the giant puzzle that is our world. There are so many different stages of development that walk through my door, and even the same kid can seem so different from day to day. They definitely keep me on my toes.
I also love how honest they are. And they are old enough to get my jokes! I especially love to get them rolling their eyes at science and literature puns. Groan-provoking jokes are the best. They have plenty of their own jokes that they share with me, too, and they keep me up to date on the latest in pop culture. I love to laugh, and we give each other plenty of opportunities.
I enjoy leveraging the argumentative tendencies of young teenagers and teaching them to turn that into a healthy debate. I feel a responsibility and an honor to help them navigate their world with integrity and respect for one another. Presenting the kids with opportunities to widen their world view and develop an ability to think critically, discourse respectfully and intelligently, and visualize their potential are all very important to me.
Through all of that cranial exercise, they ask really great, thought-provoking questions that I could never think of myself. It gives me an opportunity to expand my own world view. I love learning, and they teach me so much!
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Lyndsay: There is a long line of educators in my family, but I resisted the teaching bug at first. Out of high school I went to the local community college to learn how to code. I kind of got bored and there wasn’t enough interaction with people in what I was doing, so I took a promotion at my restaurant job and became a manager.
Through managing the restaurant, I learned that what I really loved was interacting with my employees and putting them in positions to be successful. One of my favorite things to do was give kids their first job and teach them what it means to be a reliable member of a crew. After some changes in my work environment took those opportunities away, I craved that type of interaction again. It was then that I decided to leave the restaurant world and go back to school to become a teacher.
MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?
Lyndsay: I wasn’t sure what to expect. I accepted the job teaching middle school at St. Patrick on a complete leap of faith, just trusting that God had put me exactly where I needed to be. Looking back, I could not be happier! Many people say they wouldn’t live year one over again in a million years, but I absolutely would.
The students in my eighth grade homeroom were great. They had such varied personalities but really got along well, especially for kids who had gone to school together (most of them) since kindergarten. And while they’d known each other forever, they were just meeting me and getting to know me, so I didn’t know how it was going to go. We started building relationships from day one and never looked back. I knew it was going to be a decent year when I lost my voice in early October and couldn’t talk. I taught the entire day by typing on a PowerPoint projected on my SMARTboard and everything went smooth as silk. They later asked me if I was ever going to do it again, just for fun!
That group was so patient with me as I made typical new teacher mistakes, but I tried to make it obvious (without looking like a martyr) that I was working very hard for them and that I was earnestly invested in their success. They were a big part of helping me survive that first year. I remember reflecting that May and realizing there was a chance I would never see some of those kids again. We’d spent the whole year together growing into better, more experienced versions of ourselves and now I had to send them out into the next big world of high school. I was so sad! Thankfully, our school and parish community are pretty closely tied and I get frequent opportunities to hear about how they (and other former students) are doing. I’m still sad at the end of each year to have to say goodbye to my students as they go on to high school, though.
My husband, Brad, was also incredibly supportive. We had two young kids at home when I first started teaching—my daughter Natalie was three and my son Calvin was just eight months old. I was at school a ton that first year, and he gave me the time I needed to dive head first into my new career and give it my best effort. He is still very gracious when it comes to the extra time and commitments that come with being a teacher. It’s not just the hours of the school day, but the hours grading papers at home or helping at fundraisers or parent-teacher conferences or any of the seemingly endless things teachers do to make sure their school is connected to the community. He is simply the best and none of this would be possible without him.
MFF: Mentoring other teachers is a priority for you. Why is this so important?
Lyndsay: When you are teaching, you can sometimes feel like you are on an island even though you spend hardly any of your school hours alone. It is the epitome of “alone in a crowd” at times. As a first year teacher, I had no mentor to help me. I had to figure it all out on my own while doing a job I had never done before, teaching content I had never taught before, and being asked to create a new format for the middle school. No pressure.
I was thankful that I was resourceful, able to think on my feet, and built relationships with colleagues quickly. I had to ask a lot of questions. I had no idea what I didn’t know! Luckily, not only were my students patient with me, but so were my coworkers. If I had left myself on that island, I would have been crazier than Tom Hanks in “Castaway.” My amazing first year could have looked entirely different.
After that, sharing my experiences became really important to me. I am thrilled to be mentoring other teachers. Teachers don’t last long if they don’t feel supported. Teachers need guidance without judgment. Teachers need opportunities to talk through successes and failures. Teachers need each other. The mentoring program we started sets teachers up for better success and gets teachers talking to each other. It opens up conversations. It puts teachers in each other’s classrooms to observe and learn from each other. It is the education that teacher’s college doesn’t give you. The best part is that everyone benefits, both the mentor and the mentored.
Honestly, you can teach knowing everything you need to know about your content area, and that’s great. But until you can really master managing a classroom, life will be a struggle. I have watched it happen to many teachers. You have to be willing to learn. You have to be willing to try new things. You have to be willing to fail and figure out how to fix it. But until you can really watch other teachers do these things, it’s all learned on the fly—sink or swim. New teachers deserve better than that. We can do a better job of preparing new teachers, sure, but we can also do a better job of supporting them once they are working with students of their own. I am glad to say that is changing for the better at St. Patrick School, thanks to the work of so many invested teachers.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Lyndsay: My high school freshman biology teacher, Lois Mayo, left an impression on me that I didn’t realize until years later. She was kind of a zany older woman who had a quiet enthusiasm about her that made her easy to pay attention to and learn from. One day she pulled me aside and said to me that I could really do something in science if I put my mind to it. At the time I was a dense freshman who had no idea what I wanted from life. I kind of said, “Okay,” and went about my day.
I only had her as a teacher for that year and she left my school the following year, but when I started reflecting on what I wanted out of life 10 years later her words came crawling out of the cobwebs of my memory. I try to channel the enthusiasm I remember from sitting in her class, though I am a tad more outward with it. It’s important to me that my students see that I have a sense of humor and that learning can be fun, especially if it comes with a side of punny science jokes.
I learned a lot about teaching through working with my father, John Ray, in the restaurant business. While he managed the business, he was a trustworthy adult figure in the life of many young adults and high school–aged kids. He helped people (myself included) learn how to problem-solve in a fast-paced, action-packed environment where quick decisions were made constantly.
My father also became a confidant when things outside of work were affecting people on the job. He set a really good example of what it looks like to care about the whole person and not just about what they can do for you as an employee. The culture he built within the restaurant made people want to work their hardest and do their best for each other every shift—something I emulated in my management style and now bring into my classroom every day. I have found many parallels between restaurant work and being an educator (including many hours on your feet!) and I consider myself blessed to be able to bring those skills with me into my teaching experiences.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Lyndsay: I remember being so confused about what was happening! We were told to be ready for a presentation about preparing students for their future and that Dr. Blomstedt, the Commissioner of Education, would be there. Officers from our Diocesan Education Office were there, and I was ready to listen to some inspiring words about education.
When Dr. Blomstedt handed the microphone off to Dr. [Jane] Foley [senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards], I could tell that things were not what they seemed at first. And then she started talking about money and I started thinking about how awesome that would be! I was hopeful for many of the great teachers I work with … and then all of a sudden I heard my name called. ]
I was truly stunned that I had received this recognition. I was like, “No way, not me! Really?” It was just so shocking and I was completely taken aback by it. I did not earn this recognition alone. I work with an amazing group of teachers, and my students are the true rock stars.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Lyndsay: My students went crazy when they figured out what was going on! Their enthusiasm for me has been truly humbling. I have heard from former students and colleagues congratulating me on the Award, which has been one of the greatest blessings to come from this. I just love hearing from former students and catching up on where life has taken them.
While the Award has some of them focused on the $25,000 cash prize, others realize that teaching is hard work—better said as heart work—and know that what I have invested in them is something money can’t buy. I just love them, each one of them. And to have all of that happen in front of my own two children who were in attendance at the assembly was a true blessing. I know they will be impacted by that experience for a lifetime.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Lyndsay: Until the money is spent, you never really know, but I do have student loan debt that would be nice to be rid of. Some of it will probably go to that. As a 49ers fan, I would have loved to be able to use some of it to go to the Super Bowl, but that is pricey! I’ll take that Super Bowl money and invest it in my kids’ education instead.
I do plan to use some of it to travel. In my literature class, I do historical fiction projects that focus on the Civil War and World War II. I would love to travel to the World War II Museum in New Orleans or the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. to learn even more about the World War II era, and also visit Civil War historical sites to help me bring that history alive better for my students. Comprehending the issues and tragedies that took us to war is one of the best ways to avoid history repeating itself. The greatest gift I can give to the future is citizens who have the skills to understand the world around them and acknowledge the potential impact they have.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Lyndsay: Middle school gets a bad rap for being a tough time. Maybe that’s justified—my own middle school experience was not great. I’ll stop short of calling it a mission, but one of my goals is to do my best to make sure that my students have at least a few positive memories from their middle school years. If I can help curate that for them, then I will have been a success.
Frankly, I am successful if my students find success. I want to help my students become the best versions of themselves that they can be. Some kids see that success in the gradebook, which is great! I want them to be able to master the content I am teaching them, but that isn’t the only win possible. For some kids, success in the gradebook comes easily, but they struggle with self-confidence. I want to help them improve that. For others, the success comes with understanding other peoples’ points of view better. Still, for some students, the success is in knowing themselves better than they did when we met. Whatever the case, helping them grow is the most important thing.
I am blessed to work at a school where I can confidently say one of my goals is to lead students to Jesus and point to Him as an example of how to approach our daily lives. I confidently believe that all are called to be modern-day saints. St. Patrick School welcomes everyone who enters our doors, Catholic or not. We live out our mission to educate the whole person, mind and spirit. At the end of the day, I am successful if my students have grown in faith and have tools to joyfully live out their Christianity as they continue their life’s journey into high school.
MFF: What lessons do you hope your students take away from their time with you?
Lyndsay: The main thing that I hope my students learn from me is that they are worthy of time and attention, and so are other people. I hope they grow in confidence and know that it is okay to be yourself. I hope I inspire them to listen—not just to those who agree with us, but to those who disagree—and ask questions genuinely. I hope they leave my classroom with techniques for intelligent discourse and know how to hear other people and disagree appropriately. I hope they learn resilience and tenacity and what it feels like to work hard. I hope they see themselves as the son or daughter of God that they are, and cherish every moment of the life they have been given. The triumphs and trials, the successes and sorrows, they all add up to a journey to be treasured and taken for the precious lesson that it is for ourselves and others around us.
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