Lynette Stant, a third-grade teacher at Salt River Elementary in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, hopes to be a voice for equitable education for kids in rural areas and on Native American reservations in Arizona. Stant, who is Navajo, is Arizona’s 2020 Teacher of the Year — the first Native American woman to earn the title.
“I became a teacher because I don’t ever want a Native American student to feel they are not prepared to meet the challenges of college,” Stant has said. “Every student, no matter their background or learning ability, deserves an equitable education.”
As Teacher of the Year, Stant earned a $15,000 cash award and a classroom makeover. She will enjoy a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and will compete for National Teacher of the Year. She’ll also have a busy year of state and national appearances. During just one of those busy weeks, she shared her thoughts on the challenges Arizona teachers still face, her proudest moments as an educator and why she loves walking into her classroom (of 38 students!) every day.
Arizona Educational Foundation chose you as Arizona’s 2020 Teacher of the Year in October. What has this experience been like so far?
My experience so far has been wonderfully overwhelming. I did not expect so much to happen so quickly. The moment I walked off the stage after being named 2020 Teacher of the Year, I was whisked away for interviews and photo ops. Each day, I am offered opportunities that never would have come my way had it not been for this award. Some of the opportunities are big, and some are small, but all of them are meaningful.
You plan to focus on the subject of equity this year. Can you elaborate?
An equitable education means having the training and resources necessary to support the academic needs of students so that they have access to success. Ensuring students in rural and reservation schools are getting the support they need to be successful is truly important.
Putting systems in place to ensure each student has a chance for success encompasses not only funding, but other resources as well. Native American students do not see themselves in educational programs that are not a reflection of themselves, their community or their tribe. They have unique challenges that require individualized support; therefore, teachers who work within these schools need the support and training to help design meaningful opportunities that promote success. I tell my students that just because their skin is brown, they are going to have to work twice as hard as their non-Native peers, because the playing field is not always equitable.
Tell us about Salt River Elementary.
The school began as Salt River Day school in 1934, built by Phoenix Indian School students, funded by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The school offers grades K-6, as well as a FACE Program [Family and Child Education, an early childhood/parental involvement literacy program] and serves approximately 380 students. It is a tribally controlled and grant-funded by the Bureau of Indian Education.
What are the best parts of your job?
The best parts of my job are the 38 third-graders that I get to see every day. Building a relationship with each student and having the opportunity to support their academic growth is what makes me happy. I see among my students the future teachers of Salt River Elementary, the future leaders of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community. My job is to prepare them for those future role and deliver the promise that they are deserving, and to show them the value of their diversity as they make their way in their educational journey.
What remain the biggest challenges for educators in Arizona?
Funding is an obvious one, but teachers are under pressure to not only teach content but also to keep pace with the real-world needs that increasingly confront students. Teachers must now teach hygiene, coping strategies, addiction awareness, anger management, manners and behavior, self-care and many other life skills. Left to solve the diverse needs of our students, teachers are not given the training or preparation to help students with needs beyond academic growth.
What do you think of the recent Red for Ed movement?
The Red for Ed movement was a momentous moment for teachers. Although I did not participate in the rallies, I supported the advocacy the Red for Ed movement started. What I think it did for Arizona schools is rally for students. Many people think the movement was just about teacher salaries, but it is so much more than that. It brought to light the conditions and lack of opportunities Arizona students face when it comes to education. Arizona continues to be at the bottom of the national rankings when it comes to student investment and teacher pay. The Red for Ed movement works toward ensuring Arizona does not lose sight of its most valuable stakeholders: its students.
Why do you think Arizona continues to have a high teacher-turnover rate?
Arizona’s teacher-turnover rate is a symptom of a larger problem. Funding is key. When trying to attract the brightest teachers, our state loses out to other states that are able to provide a competitive salary.
What’s been your proudest moment as an educator?
My opportunity to mentor pre-service teachers. Over the years, I have been a student-teacher mentor and a student-intern mentor. Being able to support a developing teacher as they develop their methodological and professional identity is rewarding — especially when those interns and student teachers are from our own school.
You mentioned your parents were sent to American Indian boarding school. What was their experience, and how did that contribute to you wanting to teach?
My parents did attend boarding schools, and from what I know about their experiences, they worked to be the best students they possibly could be. Although I did not start out wanting to be a teacher — I initially wanted to be a lawyer and started as a political-science major — I think I had the qualities of a natural teacher. My parents understood the value of a good education and always told me that a college degree was the one thing that no one would ever be able to take away from me. I am a first-generation college student, and my successes are reflective of the support I received from my parents.
Tell us about your family.
My husband, Spencer, and I have been married for almost two years (our anniversary is in March). My daughter, Taylor, is a senior at Arizona State University and is majoring in Global Health. Together we love traveling and hiking.
How does it feel to be the first Native American woman to be named Arizona Teacher of the Year?
I am a Díne woman, a Díne educator, a product of reservation schools, a first-generation college student. My role is to instill in students an immense sense of pride and show them that they matter and they have something meaningful to contribute to their communities and the world. I take my role seriously, because I want one of our Salt River Elementary students to stand in my position one day.
Previous Arizona Teachers of the Year
- 2019: Kareem Neal, Maryvale High School
(Phoenix Union High School District)
- 2018: Josh Meibos, David Crockett Elementary School
(Balsz Elementary School District)
- 2017: Michelle Doherty, Encanto School
(Osborn Elementary District)
- 2016: Christine Marsh, Chaparral High School
(Scottsdale Unified School District)
- 2015: John-David Bowman, Westwood High School
(Mesa Public Schools)
- 2014: Beth Hutchins-Maloney, Sunset Hill Elementary School
(Dysart Unified School District)
- 2013: Nancie Lindblom, Skyline High School
(Mesa Public Schools)
- 2012: Kristie Martorelli, Thompson Ranch Elementary School
(Dysart Unified School District)
- 2011: Amanda McAdams, Apollo High School
(Glendale Union High School District)
- 2010: Joy Weiss, Balsz Elementary School, Phoenix
- Teaching in Arizona: A don’t-miss documentary follows three Tucson educators
- Schools superintendent brings youth, hope and optimism to role