Maui teacher Lisa Morrison offers her background as a cinematographer, student activities coordinator and Hawaii State Teachers Association leader as she became HSTA’s secretary-treasurer on July 5.
Morrison grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and knew from third grade that she wanted to pursue teaching.
“One day, my teacher was doing math, and she was trying to help students as we worked independently,” Morrison said. “Since I was already finished, the teacher asked me to help another student. So I sat down and showed him, and then he said, ‘Oh wow, I get it now.’ In that moment, I realized that I had something useful to give, and that was it for me. There was a spark.”
Morrison attended Hubbell Elementary, Merrill Transitional (Middle) School and Roosevelt High School, all in her native city of Des Moines. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in English and teaching with minors in Italian and French from the University of Iowa.
She started her career as a private school teacher. Her first job was in northern California teaching a half-English, half-Italian position for a few years before transferring to Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood.
Morrison always enjoyed extracurricular coursework. During her stint at Pacific Hills, in addition to English, she taught drama and speech while serving as the newspaper and yearbook adviser. Because of her teaching load, she started feeling burnout.
“I just didn’t know how to say no, because I have a lot of different interests,” Morrison said. “My experiences in private school showed me just how important teachers’ rights and advocacy are. In a union contract, you have protections like how many grade levels you teach and built-in breaks. We often don’t realize how the structure of the day can help or harm a teacher.”
After her fifth year of teaching, she left the profession to attend graduate school at the University of Southern California where she studied broadcast journalism. Morrison then worked in production for 10 years on commercial projects and documentaries, including as a TV news producer as well as a cinematographer and editor for DVD releases. Morrison fell in love with Hawaii during a vacation here and relocated to Maui in 2009.
Video work on Maui was sparse during the recession, so Morrison went back to what she knew well: teaching. She tutored kids in math to fill the need at that time and took the Praxis test to add math to her license.
While she transferred her licensure to Hawaii from California, Morrison started her first job with the Hawaii State Department of Education as an educational assistant at Kihei Charter School. She then took a position as an eighth-grade math teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate for three years before serving as the student activities coordinator for six years.
“I was helping with student government and the yearbook,” Morrison said. “I eventually worked into doing media and the morning news, and that’s right up my alley. So for six years, I had the perfect position for me.”
After nine years at Waena Intermediate, Morrison decided to move on and now looks forward to starting her dream job this fall at Maui High. She’s joining the Arts and Communications Department where she’ll teach graphic design for sophomores and supervise media and fashion projects for seniors.
“I’m thrilled,” Morrison said. “I’m so excited to be back in high school because almost all these kids came up through Maui Waena, so they already know me. It’s good.”
Getting involved in HSTA: ‘I was ready to take action’
Morrison got involved in HSTA after attending her first Institute Day in 2014. A riveting speaker talked about the need to eliminate standardized testing in schools, and Morrison was hooked.
“I was inspired by the Maui Institute Committee chair’s controversial choice to have that speaker, since he didn’t represent a formal position of the union,” Morrison said. “But the crowd gave a standing ovation and I was ready to take action.”
Morrison started attending HSTA’s convention each year and enjoyed the debate and discussion about new business items. The next year at the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly, she met Maui Chapter President Lester Kunimitsu who recommended her for a position on the Charter, Bylaws and Resolutions Committee. During her tenure with HSTA, Morrison has served as a faculty representative, head faculty representative, and Association Policy Committee chair. She also served on the Negotiations Committee for five years and joined the Negotiations Team two years ago. She was the Maui Chapter vice president before becoming state secretary-treasurer.
“What I like about HSTA is that my work is valued,” Morrison said. “I am treated like I have something to give, and I think it’s unfortunate that sometimes teachers are not treated that way in their own positions.”
Her varied experiences within HSTA prepared her for the role of secretary-treasurer, which she started earlier this month. From working on the Negotiations Committee to speaking to teachers and the public as part of the union’s communications efforts, Morrison is familiar with improvements needed for students and teachers across the state.
“It disturbs me when people say the union is only looking out for teachers,” Morrison said. “A teacher, by nature, is a person looking out for their students. So much of what we advocate for are the learning conditions. People forget that we are working for the good of our students.”
Morrison ran for secretary-treasurer because she wanted to have a say in the policy of the organization, and she recognizes the responsibility that comes with representing the voices and desires of nearly 14,000 people. Her goals include strengthening the good work HSTA is already doing, like increasing member engagement and partnering with the Board of Education to make change.
“I’d like people to want to take on an HSTA position at their school or their chapter,” Morrison said.
Morrison said members should ask who their HSTA representative is on campus, check HSTA’s website for meetings and updates, and submit an online contact form to express their interest in getting involved.
“The reason we have a union is because there’s power in numbers,” Morrison said. “The strength of our union comes from those of us willing to get involved.”