- Middle School
Our fourth episode of Bear Conversations features grade 6 teacher Hannah Lash. She discusses what she enjoys about the curiosity of sixth-grade students. She also shares about her personal passions, including drama, and her first experience as a kindergartner in a community production of the musical Grease.
About Hannah Lash
Hannah Lash began teaching at Bear Creek in 2018 and loves the energy, curiosity, and humor that sixth-grade students bring into the classroom each day. Her favorite part of teaching is seeing students grow in their self-confidence throughout the year and experiencing the amazing classroom community that develops throughout the school year. In her free time, she enjoys sipping multiple cups of coffee, getting outside to run, swim, bike, and hike, and traveling to exciting new places! In addition to teaching, Mrs. Lash enjoys coaching Middle School cross country and helping runners persevere to meet their goals. Her goal for teaching is to help students learn how to think, not what to think.
During this conversation, Patrick and Hannah talked about travels, books, and more that you may be interested in investigating further.
- Hannah taught at Pag-asa in the Philippines. You can read more about Project Pag-asa and their mission on their website.
- Hannah talks about teaching students to remember the acronym TACOS in their prayers. TACOS stands for Thanksgiving (thanking God for what he has done), Adoration (praising God for who he is), Confession (and acknowledgment of sin), Others (praying for others), and Self (praying for yourself).
- Hannah mentions enjoying and recommending children's literature to her student. Here are some of her favorites.
- Framed! series by James Ponti
- City Spies series by James Ponti
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
- Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader's Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
- The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau
- The Giver series by Lois Lowry
Welcome to Bear Conversations, a podcast of The Bear Creek School in Redmond, Washington. I'm Patrick Carruth, Bear Creek's President and Headmaster for nearly 15 years. In today's episode, I'm talking with grade 6 teacher Hannah Lash about what drew her to The Bear Creek School and discussing what Christian liberal arts looks like in the early years of Middle School. Hannah, thanks for taking the time to talk a little bit today.
Thank you for having me.
So originally, where are you from?
I'm from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. So, 45 minutes outside of the city.
So, you definitely are in the Midwest area.
What brought you out to Bear Creek? That's halfway across the country.
It's really far. My teaching career has taken me lots of places, so it has taken me halfway across the world to Asia. It has taken me to Arizona, and then, specifically, Washington was because of my husband. So, my husband's job was out here. And so that's really what brought us, specifically, to the state of Washington. But Bear Creek won me over as soon as I started looking into your mission, and just the amazing community and culture that Bear Creek has is something that I never really got to experience in my other teaching experiences.
I noticed that you did some missionary work in Manila. Tell me a little bit about that. How was that?
It was incredible. I think to start my teaching career in such a unique teaching experience, working at an incredibly tiny school, working with orphans in the city, my class size was tiny. I had a class of six students and then a class of eight. And so, I got to really know those students personally. And I had a lot of freedom to kind of make curriculum that matched what my students needed and matched where they were. And there's a lot of creativity in that, and there was a lot of inspiration. And so, it was really special to start my teaching career getting to do that.
Was that something that was with a particular church, or did you just decide that you wanted to go and work in the Philippines?
Well, I first started looking into missions organizations and so I found a mission organization that I wanted to go with. And then you get this long list of schools in a long list of countries and you kind of look through and say, "What sounds interesting?" And I knew I wanted to work with national kids. So I wanted to work with kids from that country specifically. And that led me to the school's called Pag-asa, which means "hope" in Tagalog, which is the Filipino language. And so I found that, and I was just drawn in right away.
Do you speak some of that language? Did you have to learn?
I took a class, but I do not know it well. I knew just enough for me to know simple phrases. So my students would say something, I could kind of know what was going on. If they were misbehaving or if they were off task, I would be able to intercept.
My kids sometimes ask me, "Do you know any languages?" And I took French when I was in school. So, I know how to order in French. I know how to ask for directions. I know how to say "I don't know" and to ask where the restroom is. That's about all I know.
That's probably all you need to know. So you're good.
That's great. You also mentioned that you taught at a classical Christian school in Arizona. Again, quite a long distance from the Philippines and Chicago. What was the experience there like?
I was following the heat, so I went from the tropics to the desert. That was my first time ever being in a classical school. And so I didn't really know anything about classical education until I got there. And that was a charter school. It was the first year that it was open. So once again, unique opportunity to kind of create curriculum and to be a part of that as it was starting. But it was really a unique experience for me to get to learn what classical was and to really see how interesting it is to teach that's not just so the subjects are all divided. It's so integrated, and it makes the learning so much more meaningful and powerful. And after that experience I knew, if I can find another classical school, I definitely want to stay there.
What was the biggest difference between teaching in Arizona and teaching in the Philippines?
Well, the obvious difference is that my students in the Philippines were orphans and had no families. So parents and the parent role was just taken out of it. And so I've come to just appreciate so much that partnership that forms between families and schools. And as teachers, we get to support the parents and the kids. And I think that's just incredible and really grateful that now I have a chance to partner with parents.
We talk a lot about in loco parentis around here, and that notion that is a pretty powerful one. When parents are plugged in and they're given those children by God, when they're plugged into that whole educational experience, it does make a big difference. So, Hannah, I know you teach sixth grade here at The Bear Creek School and would love to know what do you like about that age? What do you like about those students?
Sixth grade is a very special age. I absolutely love it. And I laugh because when I first went into teaching, I thought that I was going to be a K – 2 teacher and God has constantly surprised me, and he keeps putting me in older grades and...
So, K – 2 was a passion?
That's what I thought. I thought, "Yep. This is what I love." I student taught in it. And I absolutely loved that grade. And I do think it's wonderful. They're cute. They're adorable. They bring a lot of energy. But I just love where sixth graders' brains are at, and they are so ready to think more for themselves. They're curious, they're humorous. They're way funnier than I am. So I get to actually laugh with them all day because they're clever and they're witty. And they make jokes that just are more funny, and I get to actually enjoy it with them. So sixth grade is definitely, I think, a unique age because we're kind of that final push before they're ready for more independence in Middle School. So they still need that support, they still need that encouragement. But they're ready for some of those more independent skills. Time management is a big thing that I get to help them with, study skills, helping them just realize who they are as a learner and how they learn and come alongside them in that learning process I think is really special and unique to sixth grade.
Sounds like you really enjoy personalizing that with them and seeing in them as individuals. It's neat to hear you say that they are starting to ask questions and some of them are bigger questions and be a little humorous. Sounds like that grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric—they're right in that dialectic space.
Yes. And we kind of dabble in both. We step back into the grammar when we're still learning a new skill for the first time. But we get to push them up to that dialectic stage where they are ready to ask big questions, and they're ready to kind of have an opinion and stand for it a little bit more, and how to navigate that space for kind of the first time where it's not my answer that is right or wrong, but "What do you think?" and turning that back onto the student is really powerful.
That sounds powerful. I bet that's a challenge each day. Do they just constantly ask questions—so they just question, question, question?
Yes. There's a lot of questions throughout the day. And you do have to kind of tell them like, "Okay, well right now that one's off topic. So we need to pause and wait." But there's that love of learning that comes through that I want to honor and say, "Well, when can we find a time to explore that question? Because that question is good." And they have lots of them.
Has anybody ever asked you a question, or do you have a favorite question that's one you remember?
There's a lot that come up. Sixth graders are funny. They are very willing to ask personal questions. They just want to know you. And so I think today they were asking me about my siblings and which sibling I fought with, randomly in the middle of an assignment on vocabulary. So that randomly comes up. But they just have questions about everything. They're curious about anything, and they don't filter it. They just want to ask anything that comes into their mind, which I appreciate sometimes and other times maybe not. But I appreciate they're willing to step out and say, "I have this question and I want to explore it."
That's great. When they're inquisitive and start to push, and it's good that we're able to shape that and help them to understand how to ask good questions.
What's your favorite subject? What really lights you up? I know you teach them all.
But what's your favorite in that spectrum?
My absolute favorite is, hands down, history. And every year when my students come in, I think that after having a year of geography, they're kind of excited about history. But they've kind of forgotten about it a little bit. And so when I get to introduce, we get to study ancient history, some kids think it's awesome, and I think some kids just don't quite buy in yet. But I think that when teachers are passionate about what they teach, it really does just ebb into the kids and they end up kind of infectiously catching that excitement as well. So by the end of the year, typically my class will say, "I love history." And I feel very proud of that accomplishment.
But I love teaching history because we teach and we study ancient history in sixth grade, which it's easy for that to just feel so far removed from our lives. But as we study it, the kids start to realize that there are parts of our past that still apply to our lives today. And there's great awe and wonder in what life was like back then that just ignites curiosity. And they have lots of questions, and we get to explore all of that. And so within ancient history, we get to study unique civilizations and world religions for the first time, which opens their eyes up to, "How do you talk about faith and religion with someone who is a believer in something different?" And those are powerful things to start contemplating in sixth grade.
And the spiraling of the curriculum is something I know that's unique here at Bear Creek, where students go through these three cycles of ancient, medieval/renaissance, and then the modern period in all of the humanities, and so they're all lined up. Are there connections that you see the kids making between disciplines, like history and literature and Christian studies because of that alignment?
Absolutely. I think Bear Creek does an excellent job of being really intentional with how they integrate the Bible units that we study, the novels that we study, the history that we study. And so for us in sixth grade, our novels mirror what we're studying in ancient history. And so as we're reading our novels, we're able to make tons of connections back and say, "Oh, this is just like what we studied in history and it connects to what we're studying in Bible." And so it makes the history just more applicable to them. It helps them make those connections in their brains, make it stick a little bit further, a little bit deeper, make it more meaningful. But it also brings the novel to life in a different way and it brings the Bible to life in a different way, because they do approach it with a lot of background knowledge that they may have not previously had.
So do you have a favorite person from that ancient period or a favorite text or do the kids have a favorite?
I would say they have a favorite unit. So when we study ancient history, the definite favorite is always ancient Greece. And so they just love, I think the Olympics and they love just what was going on in ancient Greece. We talk a lot about different philosophers and the different people and all the things that came out of that and how that shaped our government and different things like that. So they definitely get the most excited about Greece and Rome, and they have to wait until the end of the year to actually get there.
Gotcha. Well, that makes a lot of sense. What does the Christian liberal arts mean to you? How would you define it? What are some experiences that you've had or stories that you have that really encapsulate what it means?
Well, to teach at a Christian liberal arts school to me, what's so special about it is that I get to teach from a Christian worldview. And so the way that we approach all the different subjects, we get to see God in all of them. And that's really applicable in things like science when we study different animals and we study matter and we study volcanoes and just the way that the world is and God's amazing creation. And so that comes through the study of science. As we study different novels, we get to talk about, "Well, why did that character make that choice that they did?" And we get to talk about, "Well, from a Christian worldview, how would we approach that situation? From a secular worldview, how would we approach that situation?" And it helps us understand our character's motives more in a really powerful way. So getting to bring that worldview to them and to each subject, I think is really powerful. When we're learning we also get to integrate across all of the different subjects and finding those connections, I think, is a big part of liberal arts education as well. And pushing that higher-order thinking—getting them really questioning what they're learning.
I know also in our mission statement we have that word "nurturing environment." And I know in the Lower School that looks a little bit different than it looks in the 5 – 8 space, and then it looks a little different in the 9 – 12. How do you nurture kids through that Christian liberal arts experience? And how do you just nurture them in general in the classroom?
Well, in sixth grade they are going through a lot of changes, and they're trying to navigate their social world, and they're trying to navigate how to balance sports in school for the first time. And so along those lines, teachers in that grade level, we get to come alongside them and help them kind of as they're figuring out who they are. They're starting to kind of question who they are. And so, showing them that love and that support day in and day out by being there for them I think is a great way that we nurture them.
And then one of my favorite parts of the day is just getting to pray with my students. We start our day with prayer. We pray before lunch. Kids get to share prayer requests so that they're lifting each other up in prayer. And it's just beautiful when kids get to know that I'm praying for them. And so if I pray for them in the morning, I give them a little note telling them, "Hey, I prayed for you this morning, and here are some things I prayed about." But there's power in knowing that someone is praying for you and lifting you up. And I think that builds really positive relationships.
When I first started teaching many, many, many, many years ago, I had someone explain that Christian worldview integration was two things. It's what you just mentioned. It's the disciplines being seen from a Christian worldview and seeing other worldviews. But the second thing really struck me is just the modeling prayer in front of the students. He said, "We get an opportunity to put multiple snapshots of the Christian life being lived in front of students." And that's a powerful thing too.
We were just talking about prayer cause I'd noticed in sixth grade, we pray a lot. But it's a lot of, "Well, this is just what I need. Give me this. God help us have a good day. Give us this." And so I heard an acronym in our professional development that was super helpful, a way to remember how to actually pray. And my students picked up on it right away, because the acronym is TACOS, and they like tacos, and so it stuck. But now whenever we're praying, we say, "Well, how much of TACOS did you get into that prayer?" And it's Thanksgiving, Adoration, Confession, Others, and Self. And so it gets them to think about not just saying, "Well, what do I need? What do I want? But how do I thank God? How do I show that I admire him? What can I lift up attributes that I really value in God and that I see working in my life? How can I confess that I'm not perfect, and I do need to continue working on myself? And how can I lift up others? Before I get to that 'This is what I want' prayer."
That's great. I have never heard TACOS, but...
That'll stick now. And the notion that you're teaching them like you say, not just to ask for things, but to actually be grateful and adore God and confess and then get to the asking or petitioning. That's a great way to remember it. I like that a lot. Now it's going to stick in my mind forever.
How much TACOS can you get in your prayer?
So tell me what kind of things do you like? What are you reading right now? Are there things you listen to like podcasts? Or what's going on in your mind, in your brain right now?
Well, my personal learning is quite on the different spectrums. I am finishing up a master's degree at the moment. And so a lot of, when I go home, my homework at night is a lot of textbook reading. So specifically right now, I'm reading a book all about neuroscience in the brain and neuropsychology. So very heavy scientific learning that I'm doing. So to balance that, I honestly love to read children's literature, and I try to mix up what I'm reading with my own personal fun, historical fiction or fiction that I want to read. But also reading what my students are reading, so I can engage with and talk about that with them in the classroom. So I have plenty of things to offer them and say, "Hey, here's a great book." Because I love getting kids excited about reading.
That's a big part. If they can read and compute, we've done a lot of our work.
But a passion of mine when I was younger was actually theater.
I had no idea. Wow. So what kind of theater? Like where did you start?
I started doing community theater when I was in kindergarten, and the first thing I ever was in, I was in Grease. And I was a cloud in the dream scene. That was my claim to fame as a kindergartener.
This was in kindergarten?
Yes. I was adorable. And then we did three shows every single year through the community college when I was young. And then when I went to middle school, I did my middle school plays and musicals. And then in high school, same thing.
So what kind of plays as you got a little bit older? So Grease in kindergarten, that's definitely a high bar for kindergarten.
It was really good. Well, it was community theater, right? So I was the youngest group, but there was older kids as well. So, us kindergartners were just the clouds.
So you didn't have any dialogue?
No, no, no.
No, just floating around in the background.
I just swayed, I think, and sang a little bit.
That's nice. And as you moved through middle school and got a little older, were there memorable plays or specific things that you remember?
Typically we would do, I think either one or two plays then every year you'd have a musical. And so the musicals were always my favorite personally. And so some of the ones we did in middle school were like Annie. We got to do Beauty and the Beast. We got to do Cats, which that one was interesting. In high school, we got to do Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We got to do Seussical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. So lots of ones I'd never even heard of actually. I'd never heard of Spelling Bee. And so it was really fun to get some old ones, some fun ones that I loved growing up like Joseph, and getting to do brand new ones to me.
It's interesting here when we do a musical, they're a big hit. We do them on a rotation. So it's not every year. The last one that we did was Beauty and the Beast.
It brings everybody out. What is it about musicals you think that creates such a community feel? Because I can see you're passionate for it right now. You're smiling about the musicals.
There's different energy, I think, for a musical and maybe it's the singing and the dancing. But there's just this excitement that comes when you're in a musical versus a play. However, I mean, I've been in incredible plays that have drawn huge excitement as well. In high school, I actually was in Shakespeare abridged play where it's a humorous play, and we tried to do all of his plays in one play. And it's mostly just humorous, but that's...
So you went from comedy to history, to tragedy, and back and forth?
Right. And we just do it all and we bounce around a lot, and it's a very hilarious play. And so it's very well written, and it's very fun. But that was my only exposure to Shakespeare growing up, until coming here and then getting to do Shakespeare Immersion with my students has just been incredible. And getting to see them get so excited about Shakespeare. And just the excitement that comes when they're on the stage and they're performing. Shakespeare Immersion is short, and so every year I'm just shocked at what can happen in those two weeks that the students have. Because they start so nervous, and they start so unsure. And you never really know if by the end of the two weeks, are we going to pull it together? But by the end, I mean, they put on a phenomenal play, and there's so much pride and so much joy and excitement that I think that energy comes and brings lots of parents in and brings the community in.
How do you help them to see what Shakespeare's doing and to navigate the language? I mean, I know it's still modern English, but it's British, right. And it's what, 15th century? I'm going to get my Shakespeare all messed up here, but it's a little bit anachronistic to them. How do you get them to access the language?
I'm always actually really impressed by the sixth graders because we give them the script months before, and we tell them, start memorizing. And for the most part, when they come to actual Shakespeare Immersion, when we first hear them read their lines, they already have really good understanding of what the phrases actually are meaning, what they're actually saying naturally. And I'm really impressed by that. And maybe it's parents helping at home. But I think to some degree they naturally are curious, and they know that they're going to bring this to life, and so they have that desire to figure it out. And then students are really good about coming and asking because if they don't know when there's all these apostrophes and what does this mean and what does that mean?
They are so willing to just say, "I do not know what this means. Can you help me?" And then usually it's just a, "Oh, that's like this and how we would say it today." And then they instantly kind of know what it is. But translating it a little bit into modern English and saying, "Basically what you're saying is this." Kind of helps them know what their tone is and what the mood is.
Do y'all rewrite the actual play and shorten it? Or how do you make it so it's digestible for them?
It's shortened a little bit because we don't always use all of the different characters. So some of the original characters may be not included or if a class is bigger, one class may be smaller. That kind of tweaks it. But for the most part, I believe they try to be pretty consistent with what Shakespeare originally wrote as best you can with sixth graders.
Do you have a favorite memory of the kids in their Shakespeare classes? Cause I can imagine that some of those lines would end up being very humorous.
One of my favorite memories actually when it comes to the lines, is that by the end of Shakespeare Immersion, the kids know every single line, pretty much, because they're hearing it again and again. And so a couple years ago we were practicing here at the Upper School in the PAC. And we were walking back over to the main campus and the kids were just saying, my entire class was just reciting the entire play saying every single line in unison, out loud together. And it was just this sweet little community of like, we're all going to say these lines together. Because they all knew it so well and they were just laughing and enjoying it. And it was just a sweet moment.
That is a sweet moment. That they're actually having a good time with something that seems, well, it's difficult. I mean something that's a bit of a challenge for them. Do you have any most embarrassing moments from when you were doing drama?
I do. I was in Mary Poppins and I had a solo and it was in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and I went to go sing my solo and I sang the wrong verse. And so, in that moment I just went, I think, beet red. And luckily someone's started singing with me the correct words, and I quickly switched. But never again did I make that big mistake in a performance.
I've noticed from some of our students, they've told me that one of the key elements of being on stage is being able to be extemporaneous. That stuff happens. And as someone who has never been on stage, I'm in the audience, I'm like, "Huh, I didn't know that." But is that true? And how do you navigate that? As an actor and then as a teacher, how do you teach kids to navigate that?
It is hard because you have to keep going. So if someone makes a mistake, it's going to happen. And that's something I tell my sixth graders, "Someone's going to make a mistake at some point and that's okay. But the thing we got to worry about is how do we then support them. And so, if someone drops a line or can't remember a line, if you know their line, just say it." And so, giving them that confidence of, "I can ask a question that helps them remember their line." And giving them the freedom to say that, I think is empowering. But also gets them to be a little bit creative and say, "I do know this play and I can fix a problem if it comes up." Or if a prop is left, just someone pick it up on your way out. So you get kind of creative, and you start to learn different ways that naturally you say, "Well, this is how I can fix that problem."
Do you find that they are nervous when they first start and they're calmer at the end? Or are they nervous all the way through?
They're nervous all the way through. They calm down a little bit cause they just feel more confident. They've practiced it. They know what they're saying. But there's still nerves that come when they finally have an audience and there's people watching them.
Well, I mean, that's a big part of teaching rhetoric is being able to present yourself. And that is a presentation literally, what they're doing. That's a great skill for them to be able to learn. It's cool. Thanks for that little jog down your memory lane. Also, I understand you're quite the athlete. You do triathlons and that type of thing. Tell us about that.
I was a swimmer since middle school. So swimming is my number one kind of sport. But in college, I got into running, and so I started running further distance and further distance. And then I ran a few half marathons. And I'd done that for a while, so I kind of was like, "Eh, I'm ready for a new challenge." Because once you've done something a few times, you just kind of want to move the goal post a little bit and say, "Well, I'm going to try something else." So since swimming was something I've always loved, that seemed pretty natural to put swimming into my race. And then biking is something I've always enjoyed as well. So I knew I could do the three sports independently. It was just the coming together and putting it together. And it was a totally new way to train and a totally new way to get ready, And it was really enjoyable.
Tell me how you train for a triathlon.
Well, swimming is pretty easy. You just go out and swim either at a pool or in a lake. I did buy a wetsuit so I could go swimming in the lakes out here.
Cause it is cold.
Being from the Midwest, I just was like, "You swim in the summer and the lakes are great." But no, you need a wetsuit. So I got a wetsuit. But I can always kind of do the swimming part cause that's my favorite. The hardest part is getting from the bike to the run because your legs just feel like each of them is a hundred pounds and you just feel so heavy after you get off the bike and you're tired. And so that's the hardest part to train for. So you usually go do a pretty long bike ride and you get off and you instantly have to go running. Just to kind of train your legs to be ready for that feeling because it's uncomfortable.
And how did you do? Was that a local triathlon or was that somewhere else?
I did one out in Maple Valley, actually right where my husband and I got married. So in the same little lake where we got married, that's where I did my first triathlon.
That's amazing. I envy you. I'm never doing a triathlon.
There's short ones. You can do a sprint really, really quick.
Just a sprint and a shower.
And then you're done.
And then you're finished, get in the car.
And then you get the medal, and you get the banana.
I think that's the kind of triathlon that I would like to do. So thanks, Hannah. Thanks for taking the time today to talk to us on Bear Conversations. Really appreciate it. Appreciate all the work that you're doing with those sixth-grade students here at The Bear Creek School. So thanks a lot.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for listening to Bear Conversations, a podcast of The Bear Creek School. Join me next month for another conversation with our Bear Creek faculty and subscribe to or follow our podcast to automatically receive the next episode. You can find the show notes from this episode on our website at tbcs.org/podcast.