Influential Teachers 3

A Chat with Some of Towson’s Best in Education

Jillien Lakatta

Fourth-grade teacher
Friends School of Baltimore
Years teaching: 11

Jillien Lakatta doesn’t mind a little strategic chaos in her classroom. That’s when her students are most comfortable working through a challenge, especially when tackling the real-world complexities of the World Peace Game, a hands-on, political simulation game with issues from refugee crises to oil spills. This March, her class strategized and collaborated as four countries, the U.N., World Bank and more on a multilevel game board the size of a kitchen table. It’s the kind of learning she loves and the kind of classroom she inspires.

Towson Lifestyle (TL): What inspired you to become a teacher?

JL: Growing up, I always played teacher and [as a teenager] loved babysitting or volunteering for children’s organizations. I abandoned it in college for international relations but realized that I really wanted to help people. I enrolled in Hunter College’s M.Ed. program working alongside a master teacher by day and going to school at night. Once I got into the classroom, it was a perfect fit.

TL: What is your greatest joy as a teacher?

JL: Absolutely, it’s connecting with the kids. I give them a lot of ownership, so they feel in charge of what they are learning. Fourth-graders are excitable and really, really capable. My students impress me every time.

TL: What have you done recently that encapsulates what teaching means to you?

JL: In summer 2015, I took a master class with John Hunter, who founded the World Peace Game and met Tayamisha Thomas, a teacher at Robert W. Coleman School in Baltimore City. That fall, she and I brought our classes together after school to play the game. The game is very complex, but the kids completely understand it. It is so beyond what someone might think a 9- or 10-year-old can do, but the students rise to the occasion. This year, John Hunter taught a master class at Friends for the week my class played the game.

TL: Why is the Friends community so special to you?

JL: It’s a community in every sense of the word. We are rooted in the Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship, and keep these values at the forefront of everything we do. Truly everything.

Matt Hnatiuk

Upper school physics and engineering teacher
Loyola Blakefield
Years teaching: 2

Matt Hnatiuk loved his days as a student in Loyola Blakefield’s science labs and on the football field. After graduating in 2010, he played football at Albright College and planned for a career in a lab. Once he started tutoring Albright teammates in physics, there was no looking back. He was thrilled to return to Loyola Blakefield two years ago to teach and serve as the Dons’ defensive coordinator. Just don’t ask him to call all his former teachers—now colleagues—by their first names.

TL: What inspired you to become a teacher?

MH: When I was a Loyola Blakefield student, I saw how passionate my teachers were about teaching and how excited they were to see students succeed. At Albright, I discovered that I really liked standing in front of a group and solving questions together. That’s when I started thinking about teaching as a career.

TL: What is your greatest joy as a teacher?

MH: I teach juniors and seniors, and it’s exciting to help them with the experiences they have going on in their lives. In engineering class, I love to see them take something we talked about and engineer some contraption. It’s amazing to see the surprise, intrigue and confidence.

TL: What have you done recently that encapsulates what teaching means to you?

MH: I started teaching the engineering class last year. It’s a lot of building prototypes and fixing them. The final project is to get a commission by another faculty member to build a 3-D model of something the teacher needs for class. The students brainstorm and collaborate with their teachers. One student built a 3-D model of a tralfamadorian from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, and a lot of guys create 3-D mathematical models, such as a model of the volume of revolution for calculus. At the end of each quarter, we also do physics Olympics with all the classes competing against each other with student-created projects.

TL: Why is the Loyola Blakefield community so special to you?

MH: Being a student here then coming back to teach, I now realize how much the faculty cares. It’s more than just a school.

Gretchen Martin

Middle school modern languages and leadership teacher
Gilman School
Years teaching: 11

Gretchen Martin is fluent in Spanish, English and middle school boy. In her Spanish classes and in the leadership course she created, she turns smaller moments for tween boys—getting an A on a vocabulary quiz, running a mile, organizing a book drive—into confidence builders and opportunities for self-discovery and community service. For the past two summers, she’s educated other leaders as a lab scholar at Boulder’s Gardner Carney Leadership Institute, bringing every lesson back to Gilman’s middle school.

TL: What inspired you to become a teacher?

GM: I was not a strong student in elementary and at the start of middle school, particularly in math. Although I had given up on math, my pre-algebra teacher never gave up on me. That class was where I started to be confident about myself. I became a teacher to try and make moments like that for my students.

TL: What is your greatest joy as a teacher?

GM: It comes when a student achieves something that he didn’t think he could do. Many middle school students don’t see themselves as capable of being leaders. By starting with simple tasks, like reading the morning announcements, the boys realize that they have leadership abilities and then are willing to take on bigger challenges.

TL: What have you done recently that encapsulates what teaching means to you?

GM: This spring I worked with Erin Cohn, Ph.D., from Leadership+Design and teachers from Garrison Forest, McDonogh and Gilman to learn the principles of design thinking and to explore how to use these ideas to benefit the educational system throughout Baltimore. I use this learning in our leadership course where the boys use empathy and creative thinking to design an original community service program to benefit Baltimore City.

TL: Why is the Gilman community so special to you?

GM: Our administration and my colleagues are interested in the whole person; I am encouraged to pursue what makes me happy and professionally satisfied. As a Gilman parent, watching my son thrive in this loving, supportive environment has made me enjoy my job even more.

Terry Shovlin

Visual arts teacher
George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology
Years teaching: 40

Terry Shovlin has taught more than 4,000 students to paint, including the winner of Bravo’s first “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” competition. Each year of her 23—so far—at Carver, she oversees the hundreds of submissions to regional and national competitions. This year’s 407 Scholastic Arts and Writing award winners are a school record. Her secret? A talent for pushing students to achieve what they don’t think they can. No wonder they nicknamed her “Art Mom” 14 years ago, a name proudly displayed on her Facebook profile.

TL: What inspired you to become a teacher?

TS: I had an amazing art teacher in high school. I got my teaching certification as an art major at Indiana University. I became a graphic designer but found it too lonely. My first job was teaching clay in a Charles County high school. I taught art at Towson High School before joining Carver in 1994. I love getting people excited about art. My dad would tell me that I wanted to inspire that one or two students. I told him that I want to inspire all of them.

TL: What is your greatest joy as a teacher?

TS: At Carver, going from drawing into painting sophomore year is huge. I need to get them to access the confidence and joy they have in drawing for paint and color and to offer what they have with truth and beauty, to own the relationship of seeing what’s in front of them. Talent is 3 percent. The rest is opportunity and hard work.

TL: What have you done recently that encapsulates what teaching means to you?

TS: I have always encouraged students to apply to competitions. For the first five years, I had an annual Maryland Distinguished Scholar winner and, at Towson, five Presidential Scholars. In 2017, Carver had 407 regional Scholastic Arts and Writing Award winners. It’s validation, yes, for the program, but it means that we have been able to push students to reach a little deeper.

TL: Why is the Carver community so special to you?

TS: As a magnet school, we are all in this together. It’s artists teaching artists to use their gifts to make a unique contribution to our culture.