English teacher Lisa Oberman reflects on long career


English Lisa Oberman retires after over three decades at ETHS.

In 1985, when Take on Me dominated radio stations and The Breakfast Club had just been released to theaters, Lisa Oberman joined the ETHS English department. She’s spent several decades teaching freshman humanities, but she’s also taught sophomore English, honors English for seniors and AP English classes. Now, after 36 years of dedicated teaching and inspiring students with a passion for the humanities, Oberman has made the decision to retire from her position. 

In all of her time here, she has witnessed the world change and ETHS adapt to it.

“When I first came in 1985, teachers didn’t have telephones in their classrooms. That seems like a simple thing, but it does really impact your day. If I needed to call a parent or receive a phone call, I literally had to leave my classroom, lock the door, run down two flights of stairs, go to my department office and hope that somebody else wasn’t on the one phone that was available to me,” Oberman said. “We had to communicate in lots of different ways.” 

But while the differences in technology may seem, to the outside world, like the most important changes that have happened at ETHS, Ms. Oberman explained that, as a teacher, it’s the small changes in an individual that matter the most. 

“The amount of growth and change that takes place within a group of people over a period of eight or nine months is extraordinary. Kids who were really quiet at the beginning—all of a sudden, at the end, they’re hand is always up and they’re really chatty. Watching the different friend groups develop, and people’s interests change, and watching kids battle through some tough stuff in their own lives and celebrate some amazing moments, you get a ringside seat to that kind of stuff as a teacher,” Oberman said. 

Oberman had prime views of those special moments for over three decades at ETHS.

“Ms. Oberman is an institutional treasure,” English department chair Samoane Jones said. “Her dedication to her craft and this community is undeniable. While I wasn’t around when she began her career at ETHS, I can imagine her zeal for teaching was similar to the passion she brings to her calling today. Her resolve has never wavered. Ms. Oberman didn’t give any indication of growing weary of her work. She continued to show up every day moving at a steady pace and inspiring those of us around her just as she has always done with such care, grace, and intention for many years.”

Not only has Ms. Oberman inspired that emotional growth in the classroom, she’s also helped student creativity blossom as the sponsor of the student-run theater and creative writing exhibition Writer’s Showcase. 

“When I first came to [ETHS],  I went to a production of Writer’s Showcase, and I was just very taken with it. It was a very unique way of getting student writing up on the stage, and I loved that it was a production that was essentially student-driven,” Oberman said. 

Her position as sponsor has allowed her to see that despite the ever-changing world we live in, the things on teen’s minds seem to have remained relatively the same. Even though they’re always written and performed in different and exciting ways, she’s noticed a couple of common themes.

“There’s always a piece that has to do with romance and love gone wrong. And there’s often a piece that has to do with teenage parent conflict, and friend relationships either succeeding or not.  There’s usually a piece that has to do with something on the political scene.”

This mix of continuing traditions and bringing in new ideas is something she’s seen played out at ETHS in many ways. 

“It’s a community that really is a blend of students, staff, administration, who value tradition, […] And yet, I think that—I hope that—we’ve been a community that has been willing to question those traditions and to change and adapt them as the times demand,” Oberman says. 

And although ETHS’ size and diversity of students can make it feel intimidating, Oberman feels that this lends to another of its greatest strengths. 

“I think there’s a place for everyone. I think there’s an activity, there’s a club, I would hope that there’s a friend, there’s a lunch table, where you will find yourself comfortable and able to fit in. And sometimes you just have to be patient to find that spot.”

After all of this time, Oberman has inevitably been left with hundreds of thousands of memories here at ETHS. She recalls major events: ‘spellbinding speakers’, student performances, victorious basketball games in Beardsley, even nationwide tragedies like 9/11—events that have shaped the Evanston community. But equally as important, she said, are the small things; a student who has struggled finally ‘getting it,’ a freshman becoming a senior and then an alumnus. These moments remind her of the beginnings and endings of novels: happy, and yet, like all endings are, bittersweet. And as Ms. Oberman closes the chapter on her time teaching at ETHS, we all wish her the best for what will begin next.