Sue Jansen has devoted much of her life to helping young people facing challenges.
The special education teacher has been at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines for 33 years. Her students have a wide range of issues, including autism and other physical, social, emotional and learning issues.
“I just feel like I make a difference with kids,” says Jansen, who has been a teacher since 1975.
And they’ve made an impact on her as well. Students have taught her everything from new trends and what’s going on in the neighborhood, to things about cultural differences.
“You are learning from them all the time,” she says.
She also enjoys working with this specific age group.
“I think that’s why I like high school,” says Jansen, who works with ninth through 12th graders. “They’re very verbal and like to communicate and share. Sometimes you may not want to hear everything.”
Jansen has seen a few changes in her many years of teaching. One has been a shift in the student population.
“I think today we’re serving students with more severe learning challenges that may have been served in a different setting” in the past, she says.
There has also been a greater emphasis on looking at the strengths of students and the things they can do. Considering their capabilities is helpful as they transition from being students into job-seekers entering the workforce, she says. It’s a shift in approach that’s important because these students often hear about the things they can’t do.
At school, there’s also increased focus in mainstreaming students (or having them in a regular classroom setting), particularly by using co-teaching, where a special education teacher and regular classroom teacher work together in a class.
Jansen says the amount of paperwork she has to do is the major challenge in her job, and it’s increased over time. But while time consuming, it is necessary. They have to be more accountable and data-driven, and look at the most effective methods, she says.
Her plans for the future? After nearly four decades of teaching, retiring in the next year is a possibility, Jansen says. Maybe.
“I still enjoy getting up and coming to work,” she says.