Q&A with Alumna Lisa Kirtman

Lisa Kirtman, PhD '00, Dean of the College of Education at Cal State Fullerton since 2016. 

Lisa Kirtman began her education career as an elementary and middle school teacher, and earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 2000. She joined Cal State Fullerton’s faculty that same year, and has served as professor of elementary and bilingual education; chairwoman of the Department of Elementary and Bilingual Education; chairwoman of the Department of Literacy and Reading Education; and coordinator for the Multiple Subject Credential and the Multiple Subject Intern programs. Kirtman has been the recipient of the CSUF Teachers-Scholar Award; the Outstanding Service Award; and College of Education Distinguished Faculty Marshall Award.

What is it about a Deanship that attracted you to the position? 

I am a former elementary school teacher, and I applied to work at a CSU because I really wanted to focus on teaching. I enjoy research but my heart is in the teaching. When I started at CSU Fullerton in 2000, I was not focused on being an administrator. I just wanted to teach. I can’t tell you that I had a plan to move to Dean. It was never part of the plan. As doors opened, I just walked through them. I was chair and associate dean and eventually Dean. It wasn’t that easy. But I think I am just trying to say it was not something I aspired to be.

I ultimately took on the role of dean because I see it as a way to impact more and more K12 students. I help set the vision which impacts curriculum. I determine where resources will be allocated. I impact faculty and staff hiring decisions. I can help remove barriers for students. I can impact change on a larger scale. But I also decided to pursue this particular position because I believe in the importance of the work of Colleges and Schools of Education. I believe that educators can change the world. If we want to change what we see in the world right now it starts in kindergarten.

After 5 years in the Deanship, please share some reflections on what it means to be the leader of Fullerton's College of Education, particularly in this era of racial reckoning and COVID-19.

After 5 years I realized that I am still learning, but I still believe so strongly in the College of Education and the work we do for children that I am still excited about my work. This has been a very hard year and a half. Obviously, nothing like the prior years. But this year has helped us to continue our focus on Just, Equitable and Inclusive Education. We have been working on this concept even before the murder of George Floyd, but injustices that we are currently experiencing has given us a push to work harder. During this year we have continue to work on professional development that focuses on Anti-racist teaching as well as examining personal and structural bias. We have continued to work to remove barriers to admissions, and improve our hiring practice to recruit more faculty of color.

In addition, we have learned a lot about what we can and cannot do virtually. We are thinking from a pedagogical standpoint and an access standpoint, what classes can we keep online? What meetings can we have online to avoid travel and reduce costs? For example, we are altering aspects of student teaching to include some virtual observation with great teachers who are strong in anti-racist teaching but too far for us our student to travel.

Finally, I think we have learned the values of healing, self-care and human contact. We are trying to think about these areas as we return to campus.

We are trying to figure out how to learn from this very difficult period. How we can be better. Although I am tired emotionally I am also excited to see what there is to come.

What is your vision for your College of Education? 

At the College of Education, we understand the power of education. It’s why we take seriously our responsibility to train qualified, compassionate, and culturally competent teachers at every level of academia. It’s why we stand for Just, Equitable, and Inclusive Education. And why our mission is to close the opportunity gap. How we leverage our power is especially important during these unprecedented times. The College of Education seeks to produce Educators who are committed to looking to transform students into the best version of themselves. 

How did your experience at the GSE prepared you for your current role, and what theories and practices do you still use today? 

Berkeley’s GSE is the main reason that I became a professor of teacher education. Through my dissertation work with Dr. Judith Warren Little, I was able to study the impact of the teacher on the classroom. My passion for teacher education grew out of that work. My class with Dr. Pedro Noguera in urban education helped me more fully understand the inequities in schools, and my work with my outside advisor, Dr. Raka Ray, helped me understand social movements, inequities in society and how to create change.

I also learned the importance of studying and analyzing data. I could talk about specific theories and theorists but I think the most important things that I learned were critical thinking and confidence in my ability. I truly believe that I can figure out most problems. I know it is going to take time, and I know it will not always be easy but my PhD program gave me the confidence to believe that I will succeed.