The Brighter Side of Education

Getting Personal With Your Host Dr. Lisa Hassler

April 20, 2023 Dr. Lisa R. Hassler Season 1 Episode 14
The Brighter Side of Education
Getting Personal With Your Host Dr. Lisa Hassler
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Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I talk about my path in education and what brought me to podcasting. I took a temporary detour in my regular guest show structure to give you the back story to what brought me to this table. 

The story is long, twisty, and raw. It's a personal tale of my journey.  Here are the beginning cliff notes highlights: pregnant at 18, 11 years to finish my Associate's Degree, 13 years to complete my Bachelor's Degree, 4 kids (1 gifted, 1 average, 2 spectrum)... 

You'll be happy to know that it has a happy ending:)  Because I've learned that no matter what happens to us along the path in life, we are exactly where we are meant to be. Learn from it and help others along the journey. 

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The music in this podcast was written and performed by Brandon Picciolini of the Lonesome Family Band. Visit and follow him on Instagram.

Books I've Authored:
America's Embarrassing Reading Crisis: What we learned from COVID, A guide to help educational leaders, teachers, and parents change the game, is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible, and iTunes.
My Weekly Writing Journal: 15 Week...

Getting Personal With Your Host Dr. Lisa Hassler

Lisa Hassler

Welcome to The Brighter Side of Education. I'm your host, Dr. Lisa Hasler, here to enlighten and brighten the classrooms in America through focused conversation on important topics in education. In each episode, I discuss problems we as teachers and parents are facing and what people are doing in their communities to fix it. What are the variables, and how can we duplicate it to maximize student outcomes? In this episode, I'm going to take a step back from my normal guest interviews and focus on my path and journey to education and to podcasting. It starts as a junior in high school when I was interested in joining the preschool program that my high school had participated in.

I was 17 years old and had an epiphany one night that this is where I wanted my life to be in. I was very passionate about wanting to work with children, so I filled out an application and interviewed for a position as a senior in my high school. And it was an all girls Catholic high school in Chicago, and we had partnered with a preschool program for three and four year olds. And the director was one of my teachers, and I had a teacher that was in child psychology. So during the week, you would take two classes, one in child psychology and one designing and implementing lesson plans for my group, which was the youngest three year olds that I had partnered with.

It was ingrained in me at a very young age on the science to teaching and the structures that were in place to implement and to give good lessons. And so I was really excited about it. I loved it, and I thought that that's definitely what I was going to go into. I was going to go into preschool teaching. So I filled out my applications and I got into a college. And then my senior spring break, I was pregnant. And so I put those plans off, and instead of a high school graduation, I had a big wedding.

I pursued education right away. I switched gears but still went to school. I did an English class in the summer right after I graduated and then paused my education for four years while I had two kids and then went back to school, took classes a couple every semester, and was working full time at Ups. I was in industrial engineering department after the training department was excelling. But I paused again in my education during this time, and I was given an opportunity to work with United Way and teach a socioeconomic class to the local first grade classes in the school in my area.

I would get off on Fridays, half day for a couple of months, and I would go to the local school and I would teach this socioeconomic class. And I loved it. I loved being able to walk into that school, and it renewed my passion for finishing my degree and to get back into education. And so I ended up leaving ups and I took a job as a fourth grade teaching aide and I was supporting students in the classroom and helping the teacher and students with different learning disabilities and behavioral difficulties and struggles and reading interventions at a first grade level.

So I continued to work in school and have that balance and really be immersed in education. And I learned that I loved where the classroom was now very different from when I was sitting behind those desks as a third grader myself, and I thought the strategies and the design of the classroom was really exciting. So I finished my associate's degree, oddly enough, just on the road to finishing my bachelor's. I had to take a class at a community college that I first had started with and here it was eleven years later. I was able to get my associate's degree just by accident because I had to finish these classes and transferred over my credits and was able to celebrate a win along my path continued then at my university again in the fall and graduated a year after that with my Bachelor's in elementary education, having my fourth child along the way.

But I didn't pause education at that point. So it was eleven years to my associates and 13 to my bachelor's. So I finally have my bachelor's in elementary education and I teach what I think is going to be at my local public school. And I was excited about it, but sadly there was a hiring freeze and the market was flooded and there were too many teachers and not enough jobs. So I took subbing positions at some Catholic schools in the area that I had done my field experience and my student teaching in and where my children were attending classes, and I was able to do a long term sub in a gifted program and a PE teachers, music teachers, you name it, I did it all.

And it gave me a great understanding of different classrooms all the way from kindergarten all the way through 6th grade at that time, and being able to be very flexible and fluid with my different approaches and strategies for the different ages and classes that I was instructing. So it was really, even though not the way I would have wanted it at the time, it was a great gift to be able to have that experience. So then I take a job as a first grade teacher for seven years at private school that I had done my student teaching and I had brought over my own children. And so I thought that I would finish my master's and my doctorate while my children were in elementary school, and when my last child would leave, I would leave with them.

And at this point I would have been teaching at a university level, instructing teachers, so that was the goal. However, my path was different, whereas my first child was identified as gifted and put into these gifted classes. Reading him very easily, for him, learning was easy. My second child was what you would just call an average student. He bumped along very easily, no problems. The worst thing he did was had a problem talking too much in first grade, but other than that, everything was smooth. Then my third son came along and we noticed that he wasn't able to identify letters.

So I pulled out all of my preschool teaching strategies that I had learned way back when I was doing the preschool, and I was doing preschool at home, and he didn't pick them up. And so we happened to be at an eye doctor appointment for my older two before school had started. And my third son was three at the time. And I said, you know, just throw him up out there on the chair and let's see how his eyes are. And they were not good. He had some great deficits in his vision that I wasn't aware of, and I thought, well, this explains why he was struggling so greatly with the symbols, not being able to recognize the symbols and the sounds that they represented.

And so got him with glasses. And I remember thinking to myself, oh, my goodness, it was great. It was like a plus 8.5. So this is pretty severe. I'm thinking, I don't know. How this kid? Like, how does he even know of his mother? No wonder he thought every brunette that was at a party with me. So we helped him along with that, and I put a lot of intensity in trying to make up for that missing time in his vision that I thought had created this delay. And so he is in preschool and kindergarten. His teachers have concerns.

He comes into first grade, is with my partner, and we're doing everything that we can to try and close those gaps. And he's getting reading intervention through a specialist at the school and second grade. I'm just not seeing the click. He's still struggling no matter what. I'm doing it, and we're doing everything. I mean, I'm using kinesthetic tactile music, sight words on his wall with sticky TAC that we would pull off before he'd go to bed every night. He's reading to me, I'm reading to him. We're listening to audiobooks, and I'm trying everything that I can think of to help support him and not understanding why he's not taking off like my other two had.

So, third grade, he finally gets into reading. Loves Goosebumps. Thank goodness for the Goosebump series. In the meantime, I have become obsessed with his lack of ability to read. Well, I've turned off the TV, so there's no TV in the house. We've eliminated all the distractions, and I'm hyper focused on his academics. We're going through our own challenges with five hour homework sessions, leaving both of us in tears and frustrated. And so the summer between third and fourth grade, I concede and say, I need help. We need help. I can't continue like this school is only increasing with difficulty.

We need some support other than what I'm giving him at home and what they're doing at school. And so I take him to his pediatrician, and at this point, I'm thinking they're going to tell me it's Add or something. We're going to fill out a couple of forms, maybe put him on some meds. His focus is going to be there, here's my salvation, and we're going to have a better school year starting in fourth grade. The pediatrician instead recommends that I go to a neurologist, and it happens to be the state Board neurologist for Autism for Illinois.

So we go and we visit her. And it's not a one and done test. It's months of testing through specialists. And at the end of all of what I would call the year of testing, his entire fourth grade year, it comes back with the diagnosis of many things. So it wasn't what I thought. And all of these little breadcrumbs along the way were actually red flags to the core problems that I didn't know. I didn't understand what I was seeing. And while I thought my son was quirky for hanging onto the side of a pool and scraping up his glasses because he was deathly terrified of the water, not wanting to put his head back in the bathtub when I would wash his hair when he was little, eating out of large spoons and stuff for his cereal.

What I just thought were quirkiness of this is just him. Actually were flags. And so moments when I would become upset with him and then punish him and tell him to say sorry to his brothers that he couldn't were actually a mutinism where his anxiety would kick in and not allow him to speak, and I didn't know it. Dyslexia was why he couldn't read and understand the symbols. A 1 second short term memory is another thing contributing to his lack of ability to pick up on those sight words. Then the big one, which was Pervasive Developmental Disorder not Otherwise Specified, which was on the autistic spectrum, the umbrella of ASD.

And so those also had those gross motor delays. So with all this information and then more doctors to be able to go and see the doctors down at Children's Hospital in Chicago for headaches, MRIs, he had EKGs, Cat scans, you name it. And so now we're armed with more doctors to have to go to psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors. It just became another year of doctors and testing and trying to find the right medicines and interventions that needed to happen that the insurance did not cover. Things like brush therapy in the mornings, yoga, finding a park that was two towns over that was built to help children with inner core strength and gross motor skills by climbing webbed ropes and walking wooden bridges and seats that I could push him in for swinging things that he didn't like to do.

And we would gradually build those things. And so I became his occupational therapist. I became his eye therapist for his lazy eyes. So I would work with eye therapy with him. Another thing the insurance did not cover. And with the Dyslexia, I was left hopeless because they told me at the time that there was no support and nothing that I could do. That it was something that eventually he would be able to manage on his. Own because each Dyslexia was different, and there was no way that they could figure out specifically what it was and how to help him.

And so it was just something he would have to self manage. And so there were holes in my support systems and things that I had to learn on my own to be able to help him. And then I looked to the school to help provide interventions which we were limited. It was a Catholic school, so I did what they couldn't do. Or I sought specialists outside that could, like psychiatrists and psychologists. We pulled in a speech pathologist that helped him with social pragmatics. And I had IEP meetings that would let everybody know that needed to the different sorts of supports that we needed to have in place for him to be able to succeed.

It was difficult, it was a definite struggle, but it changed the way that I viewed the struggling child in my own classroom. I began to look at those that struggled as my own son. How would I want my son to be treated in the classroom? What would I do for my own son who was struggling in this position? And so my empathy was definitely a contributing factor as to how I managed those students that were struggling, those that were gifted, and those that were average. As a mother of all three, I knew what I was doing at home, what the teachers were doing to support them, and how I would want them treated in their classrooms.

And so it really shaped how I managed my own room and the supports that I did, and the teaming with parents that I would create. So here it is. Now my education has paused. I had to focus, obviously, on my own children, and they needed me to be that support for them. And that's what I did. I then went to Florida. My older two children moved off to college. I moved to Florida. And they didn't really recognize his testing, which was a challenge for me. We went into a Montessori school I was interested in at that time, learning different strategies, different methodologies for the classroom.

So I thought that a Montessori approach would be really interesting to learn. So I began a year of teaching at Montessori. I took the classes through the director, collaborated with the educators in the Montessori schools. I did a third and fourth grade split and a second and third grade split, which means that there were third and fourth grade students within the same classroom and two educators. And then there was a second and third grade students in the same classroom with two educators. And the educators supported both of the grade levels that partnered with each other and learned off of each other.

So it was a great experience. I learned a lot, loved the materials that they used for a more tactile approach to learning, and saw that I started to miss my traditional structures and lesson planning techniques, that I thought that it was a better fit to go back to a traditional classroom setting. But I brought those Montessori methods with me and the materials as well. And when I came back, I was teaching second grade and I did that for eight years and I infused those Montessori methods to work in collaboration with supporting the students. And it was a beautiful marriage of those two different methodologies and approaches.

So at this point, I went back for my master's degree after I went to Brazil. I was inspired by a trip when I went there and I saw the deep poverty, the need to learn English as a way to open up opportunities for families. A town that I visited was heavily tourist driven, and the people who worked in there were mostly blue collar workers that were given very little advancement or hope for their socioeconomic future, given their limitations. And I was told that if they had learned English, which they had wanted to do, but the school system didn't teach English, that they would try to find secure tutors for English learning, but it was very expensive, they didn't have the money for it.

So it was a desire to learn English, because if the parents had learned English, they could advance into higher paying positions within the town, which would free the children to be able to stay in school longer instead of having to quit to go to work to help to support the family. And then it would then allow those children to go to college abroad and then have job opportunities that they would have never had. So I looked into the possibility of teaching whole families English as a way to stop the generational poverty and to increase their socioeconomic status moving forward. And I went back to the United States and I spoke with a local university and I designed this plan for my doctorate to be able to study whole family second language acquisition for the increase of socioeconomic status.

And then we went back to using the master's to study online teaching and learning so that I could teach these families in Brazil using online distance education. And I was really excited about it. I wrote my thesis and my plan was in motion. So I finished my master's, wrote my thesis, and I have a plan set in place as to how I'm going to do this, how I'm going to implement family instruction. And the government down in Brazil passes a policy that now they're going to start to teach English as a second language within their school system.

And so there's no longer a need for me to instruct English because now it's going to be given to them. So I have to rethink what my plan is for my doctorate at this point. And I take a year off in between my master's and my doctorate. Kind of lost not knowing where I'm going to go with it. And a professor encouraged me to continue my doctorate but in educational leadership. So I did and now I'm thinking about, well, what am I going to study for my dissertation? And school board member who is a friend talked to me about possibly studying virtual education in second grade for third grade reading proficiency because of the large concern within the state of the low proficiency levels that our third graders were having in the state of Florida.

And we were not alone. The nation was facing the same problem where we needed to be able to find ways to help our third graders read on level for many different reasons. And so that's what the whole study was about. So I was intrigued by this. Being a second grade teacher, having my background in online teaching and learning my masters, I thought it was a great way to look into something that was of need to the community as a whole. And so I did look into it and I was studying it and I used five years of data up to 2019 and of course I had to stop the study because in 2020 COVID happened and everything shut down.

And so I'm using now my online teaching and learning to create an online platform for my second grade students and I saw that it flourished. I then went back to the face to Face classroom, but then taught a high flex classroom, taking my online platform and merging it with my face to face strategies and being able to meet the needs of my students with the flexibility of them coming and going within the online platform and the face to face. If someone they needed to quarantine for a time and couldn't be in the classroom, students moved. They moved to different states.

They moved across the country to the other side of the state and still stayed within my classroom because of the flexibility. And I was really able to then take that third piece, that online theory, and create an even more flexible, successful classroom using not only then my traditional face to face strategies, then my Montessori methodologies, and then my online teaching and learning theories and strategies, and I put them all together. And what I saw was just a very successful classroom that embraced all these different strategies and theories together, and the way that it worked, balanced out the classroom, and it met not only all the children's needs, but the parents needs as well. They needed the flexibility, they needed the transparency, they needed to be able to support the students whether they were struggling, gifted or on level.

And I saw that it worked for all of them. Though the study was very close to my heart because I implemented the strategies that I saw were needed. I was then able to finish my dissertation and I wrote a book about it to help others see that you could take these different ideas and you can bring them into your classroom with great success. And so that's really where the podcast then was born. It's using these stories to be able to look at the positives in education, to make it work for us, so that in the end, it's the student that wins.

So I'm going to leave with this quote. It's from Albert Einstein and it says the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. So I'll leave you with that. We need to change our thinking in the way that we approach education and to be open, open to the possibility of wonderful things happening through change. So if you have a story about what's working for you in your schools that you would like to share, you can email me at or visit my website at and send me a message.

If you like this podcast, subscribe and tell a friend. The more people that know, the bigger impact it will have. And if you find value to the content in this podcast, consider becoming a supporter by clicking on the supporter link in the show Notes. It is the mission of this podcast to shine light on the good in education so that it spreads affecting positive change. So let's keep working together to find solutions that focus on our children's success.