CBS Correspondent Steve Hartman surprises Arizona teacher

CBS Correspondent Steve Hartman surprised a Phoenix classroom whose teacher uses Hartman's stories in his daily lesson plan.
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 5:11 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A special surprise this week as CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman stopped by Alhambra Traditional School in Phoenix, where one teacher’s been using his stories as part of their daily curriculum for the last 15 years.

We got to sit down with Hartman to talk about how his stories are now being used as life lessons in the classroom. Hartman is known for his simple, thoughtful features on everyday people overcoming obstacles and doing amazing things. There’s almost always a surprise woven in that makes you laugh or can bring you to tears. And there’s just something about how he triggers our emotions that really resonates with kids.

“We stopped by Alhambra Traditional because there’s a teacher there who shows pretty much every On the Road piece. He uses them to teach character education, social emotional learning. So, we showed up and I felt like a rock star!” Hartman said.

He says seeing his storytelling from the last nearly 40 years turned into a lesson plan is a bigger honor than any award he’s ever gotten. “That’s what surprised me. I never looked at the stories that way. But now that I have a moment to reflect on it, yeah, it does make sense because we are going out and we’re finding the most extraordinary Americans who are still very ordinary Americans. And there are lessons to be learned from these people.”

“I look at my job kind of as to restore faith in humanity. Because the top half of the newscast, as important as it is, can really bring people down, but it’s not reflective of who we are,” Hartman said. For seven years, he threw a dart over his shoulder at a map, went to the first phone booth he saw in town, flipped through the Yellow Pages, and picked a stranger at random to profile and prove everybody has a story. “This changed my life in such a profound way. I was finding really important relatable stories in everybody that I picked out of the phone book. How could that be? They’d say, ‘Wait a second, there are 300 million people in America, and you pick me out of the phone book? You know, there’s a reason that this is happening. I’m going to tell you the story that I’ve never told anybody before.”

And he’s kept in touch with almost every one of them. “People trust me with their story and trust me to tell their story to the nation. They’ve been all I cared about for an entire week in my life. And some people reach out you know, once a year, or I’ll reach out to them if I haven’t heard from them. And there’s some people I’ve done stories on, that when I hang up the phone, I say ‘I love you.’ And I really do,” said Hartman.

He’s logged millions of miles for his “On the Road” features. And during the pandemic had his kids co-anchor his lessons in Kindness101. He’s taken home nearly every journalism award possible: An Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, three national Emmy awards and nine RTNDA/Edward R. Murrow awards. “What I’m most proud of is that teachers show the stories in schools across the country, and that they invite me into that sacred space and use me to teach a lesson. Not me, the subjects of the stories. That’s the highest honor,” said Hartman.

A truly humble hard worker, Hartman edits every story himself, obsessing over even the smallest of details and nat sound clips. He says he likes to go in unprepared but curious and tries to draw as little attention as possible to the cameras and mechanics of the storytelling so his subjects can be as open and unguarded as possible.

As for the subject of his latest story, that Phoenix teacher just so happened to have started his career before going into educating our next generation as a producer here at CBS 5. “His name is Derrick Brown. He knows my archive better than I do!” Hartman said. “He’ll show a story a day in the classroom and use it to teach a lesson. He’s very eloquent about you know, ‘This story teaches this lesson.’ I hadn’t even thought about, but you know, he’s my chief librarian now.”

“I think this may be my purpose,” Hartman added. “Sometimes I think I used to maybe dismiss what I do. Well, it’s the last story in the newscast. You know, how important could it be? Now that I know that kids in classrooms are watching this. I think this may be my purpose.”

“I think this may be why I was meant to do what I do because if kids come out of middle school or elementary school with good strong character, they’ll find love and, and happiness and friendship and along the way, hopefully they’ll make the world a better place,” he said.

Brown says he never grew up idolizing athletes, so Hartman’s visit was about the best surprise ever. He says he tells his students it’s up to them to take those life lessons and stories that speak to their hearts and put them in action. Brown said one of his students missed the big surprise visit and was crushed. He reached out to Hartman and within half an hour, Hartman responded saying he’d call the child at home on Friday night and he did!

Brown is one of more than 5,000 teachers in a Facebook group Kindness 101 for teachers, where educators share lesson plans and curriculum based on Hartman’s stories. Hartman and his producer Jessica Opatich help moderate and encourage educators to keep spreading those simple lessons, expanding our collective empathy, one story at a time.