2018 Border Star Teacher of the Year

Lower Elementary Montessori Teacher Melissa Lands Hanke


Melissa Lands Hanke
Border Star Montessori
Lower Elementary Montessori Teacher (1st – 3rd Grades)

What motivated your career in education?
Growing up Puerto Rican and being bilingual, I was surprised at how so many students in Puerto Rico were behind in their English. My passion was always to work with younger children, so when I saw an opportunity to teach elementary children, I took it. My first teaching job was in my home town of Ponce, Puerto Rico at Colegio Ponceño teaching English to juniors and seniors as well as 8th grade. I developed my own curriculum, since they didn’t have any materials. My curriculum had to take this into account and streamline the English for this high school since they seemed so far behind. I chose Kanas City Public Schools for two reasons. One was the challenge to teach full immersion Spanish to first graders. Second, Kansas City was closer to where my family lived at the time. When I was hired, my first position at Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) was at Fairmount when it was a Spanish Magnet. I went from teaching all high school English to elementary Spanish. It was an experience that I will never forget. The ability that children have to learn a foreign language at such an early age is just amazing. My style of has always been positive, engaging and hands-on teaching.

What message about public education do you want to share?
As educators, one of our goals should be to empower children, be encouragers, and motivators. We need to teach in a way that provides true character and academics. Dave Levin, Co-founder of KIPP, a US charter school network, says that academics and character are the “double helix” of education. Giving kids the tools to be successful isn’t just merely teaching them a lesson, but giving the tools to have incredible perseverance, optimism and a growth mindset. As educators, it’s not whether they can just pass a test, but provide problem solving skills as well as a character that enables them to handle it when they fail. As a student, I struggled through school and unfortunately, there isn’t one teacher that stands out as being someone that encouraged me or helped me. My parents were the ones that never gave up on me and despite their limited English skills told me that I could do anything that I set my mind to. They instilled a strong character in me. Many of the children that we teach have parents that are too busy or simply aren’t involved in their child’s life/education. Teachers are the second closest adults to these children lives. We should be instilling a growth mindset and character embedded in their academics that will be with them through success and failure.