Jolene Rude was in the second grade when she remembers, consciously, wanting to be a teacher.
She initially wanted to teach English. But she changed her mind after visiting special education classrooms.
“Seeing it in action — I just knew I wanted to be a part of that,” says Rude.
After 21 years at Timber Ridge Elementary as a special education teacher, her passion for helping students shows little in the way of waning, despite the multi-layered challenges some kids face, from academics to problems at home.
Rude teaches special education to fourth and fifth graders. The main goal is to help struggling students become academically proficient. Getting there means addressing issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), memory problems and lack of self confidence.
“I have a lot of students who come in with a lot of low self confidence,” Rude says. “A lot of my job is before I can teach them, I have to build that self confidence that they can learn and they will learn. There’s no other option — we will be learning.”
Rude works with special education students through co-teaching in classrooms. It is an arrangement where she and the classroom teacher share teaching responsibilities. Rude, who co-teaches in math and reading, is available to assist any of the students in those classes, not just those with special needs.
She currently has nine special education students, interspersed in the two classrooms where she co-teaches. Co-teaching is a system she’s been using for 15 years that is of huge benefit to the students, Rude says. For example, special education students 20 years ago were pulled out of class to work in isolation with her. The students now are able to learn alongside their peers, giving them valuable opportunities to collaborate, interact and learn from one another, she says.
The biggest joy in her job is what she calls “the light bulb moment” for students.
“That is truly one of the most rewarding times for me as a teacher — to see the light bulb go off,” she says.