Rucks recognized in special education
By Angie Landsverk
Susan Rucks always thought her career would be in the business field, and for a time, it was.
“I never thought about teaching when I grew up,” she said. “I just always assumed I’d be in an office somewhere.”
She figured she would follow the example of her parents.
Her father worked at Banta for 40-plus years, and her mother worked at Miron Construction for 20-plus years.
After Rucks graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a degree in business, she began working at Miron Construction.
She worked there six years and several years later, decided to return to school to become an early childhood and special education teacher.
Today, Rucks is in her second year of being a special education teacher at Weyauwega-Fremont High School after teaching early childhood and special education in the Manawa School District for almost seven years and then being a 4K teacher in Oshkosh for a semester.
Her work in the field is being recognized.
Rucks is the recipient of the Wisconsin Council for Exceptional Children Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year Award.
The award honors a member of the council who currently provides direct services to students who have disabilities and whose work is an example of the best in special education teaching.
She will be recognized at an awards luncheon in January and as the state winner, is among those being considered for the national award.
Kandi Martin, the W-F School District’s director of pupil services and curriculum, nominated Rucks for the state award.
“Susan has been a tremendous addition to our staff. She shows great care and compassion for the students she works with,” Martin said.
She said Rucks is an example of someone who walks the walk as she is an advocate for children in and outside the school day.
“She pushes the students to excel at their highest level. She has found employment for all her students, which they will be able to continue after graduation,” Martin said. “She has a model program in her classroom that several other school districts have come in to observe and borrow ideas.”
Back to school
For Rucks, the decision to go back to school was due to experiences she had with her own children.
Rucks and her husband, Brad, are the parents of five children – two daughters and three sons.
Cassie is a junior at Concordia University Wisconsin. Jordan is a senior at W-F High School, and Noah is a sophomore there. Muluken is a sixth grader at W-F Middle School, and Tinsae is a second grader at Weyauwega Elementary School.
Their two youngest sons are both adopted from Ethiopia.
Cassie was born 10 weeks premature.
“It affected her balance,” Rucks said.
While her daughter did not qualify for physical therapy, Rucks learned about the need for early intervention and tried many things on her own with Cassie.
Noah taught her more.
When he was 3 years old and did not have any words, many said his two older sisters did all the talking for him, Rucks said.
“He turned 3 in May, and services would not start until September,” she said.
Concerned, the family turned to private speech therapy.
Being an advocate for her son was also one of the reason why Rucks decided on a career change.
At the time, she was a stay-at-home mother.
“It was that fall that I decided to go back to school,” she said.
Rucks enrolled full time at UW-Oshkosh, deciding to become an early childhood and special education teacher. She completed her degree in early 2007.
Rucks immediately loved her work.
“Every day is different,” she said.
When she taught at the early childhood level, she explained to families not just about their child’s disability but how they could help their child at home with structure and routine.
In late August of 2014, Rucks was planning to be a 4K teacher in Appleton when Martin called her about an open special education position at W-F High School.
With Ruck’s certification being from birth through third grade, she needed an emergency licensure to teach special education at the high school level and is in the process of being certified to teach special education from birth to age 21. She will receive that certification in May.
“I was always at the beginning,” she said of her work. “Now it’s the world of transition and what that looks like.”
Rucks has a caseload of nine students this school year, and they know what is expected of them.
“When they walk in the door, we have a time clock. They punch in at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day because of the transition time we’re talking about,” she said.
Her students receive tickets when they do such things as complete their timecard on a daily basis, finish their work in class, transition well and make good choices.
“Each one has a box to keep their tickets in. They keep track of their own,” Rucks said.
On Friday afternoon, the classroom store opens, and her students count their tickets and decide if they want to use them to “buy” something in the store.
“It’s been a real positive. The kids like it,” she said.
There are also 100 structured work boxes in the classroom.
“Each student, at their work station will have four work boxes they have to complete,” Rucks said. “It’s working for independence. It’s something they should be able to complete on their own.”
The tasks in the boxes range from matching socks to sorting kitchen utensils or office supplies.
“Part of this is getting ready to do more independent work, independent living skills,” Rucks said.
When the students complete a box, she tracks if they understood what they needed to do and compiles data.
Students also work outside of the classroom.
Through a partnership with Goodwill, she takes five students to Goodwill’s Waupaca store each Wednesday.
“They work for three hours. The food service here makes their lunches. They take them with them and eat them in the break room. They are learning so many things there. I have two other students involved in the county transitional program,” Rucks said.
She gets excited about coming up with new ideas and also designed her classroom with the needs of her students in mind.
One of the first things Rucks did last school year was to put sheer light covers over the fluorescent lights to dim the lighting.
“Fluorescent lights don’t do well for my students,” she said. “With a lot of them, the glare affects them.”
In addition, each student has a desk carrel instead of there being an open space in the classroom.
“Each student needs a defined, individual space,” Rucks said. “They need to know that is their stuff, their area.”
Rucks said there is a need for special education teachers, from early childhood through the high school level.
She was surprised and excited to be recognized for her work and said she does what she does because she loves it.
“It’s great to know these kids. They teach me something every day – to take a breath, to take a step back. They see the world in such a different way,” Rucks said.