Schroeder recognized for special education work
By Angie Landsverk
Andy Schroeder planned to be a social studies teacher and a coach.
He quickly discovered he had a gift to work with special education students.
The Weyauwega-Fremont High School cross-categorical special education teacher is being recognized for the work he has done and continues to do.
Schroeder is the recipient of the Wisconsin Council for Exceptional Children’s Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year Award.
“Probably not a month has gone by the last 25 years that I haven’t thought, ‘I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this,’” he said.
Schroeder believes teaching is a great profession and does not seek recognition.
The award he received focuses on staff who do extraordinary work with special education children both inside and outside of school, said Kandi Martin, who is the director of pupil services/curriculum in the W-F School District.
She nominated Schroeder for the award and describes him as “a model teacher and model leader.”
Martin said, “He has a calm, humble, modest leadership and teaching style that is admirable. Andy works mostly with young men in the high school who do not have male role models in their life. Mr. Schroder spends a great deal of time teaching these young men life skills and character training to develop their own strengths as young men about to enter the world.”
Road to teaching
Schroeder grew up in Neenah and said his fourth-grade teacher inspired him to become a teacher.
That teacher was engaging and made the children feel special, he said.
Prior to that, Schroeder’s future career aspiration was to become a zookeeper.
For a time, he also wanted to be an NBA player.
By the time he was in high school, Schroeder knew he wanted to be a teacher – specifically a social studies teacher.
That is what he studied at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and when he graduated from there in the late 1980s, there were a lot of others interested in that particular field as well.
For every open social studies position, there were 500-some applicants, Schroeder recalled.
He soon considered other career options.
Each month, he received information from UW-Eau Claire about job openings.
When Schroeder saw one for Sunburst Residential Treatment Center, a home for inner-city girls with emotional and behavioral disorders, he applied and got the job.
“Here I am. I had never dated anyone but my wife. I had no sisters and grew up in Neenah, and I got five inner-city girls,” he said.
Schroeder was 23 and did not have a special education background.
He showed up for his first day of teaching there.
“All of the other kids in school were there, but not my girls,” Schroeder said.
About an hour later, the social worker stopped by and told him the girls barricaded themselves in their room over the weekend and attempted to build a bomb.
They were on a psychiatric evaluation hold for 72 hours.
“When they did come, they were girls with a lot of difficulties in their lives,” Schroeder said.
The only two hours of the school day they were not with him were when they had music and science.
When the lead girl was angry, she spit in the faces of both of those teachers.
She never did so to him, and when Schroeder asked her about it, she told him it was because she respected him.
When the girls did not have class, Schroeder spent time with them.
The girls smoked cigarettes – something he had never been around – and he listened to them talk about their boyfriends and took interest in them and their lives.
“It ended up being a great year,” Schroeder said. “I left to to go to Africa for three years. They gave me flowers and cried.”
That was his first experience working with special education students.
“I was going to be a social studies teacher and coach. That gave me a love for kids who are struggling,” he said.
Schroeder and his wife, Kara, traveled to Africa through a Christian group to do mission work.
“I think when I was 14, I felt this thing to go and help the poor in Africa,” he said.
There they saw drought, famine and starving children.
“I was charged by elephants,” Schroeder said.
He also killed black mamba and green mamba snakes.
Because of his experiences in Africa, Schroeder does not get rattled about anything.
During their time in Africa, the couple’s first child was born.
Joanna was followed by Ellen, Aaron and Becky.
Joanna, Ellen and Aaron are graduates of W-F High School. Becky is a senior there.
After several years of mission work, Schroeder returned to Wisconsin and began teaching and coaching at Rawhide Boys Ranch, outside of New London.
It serves male students who are placed in residential treatment by the juvenile justice system.
He worked there for 17 1/2 years and said he loved it.
Schroeder especially liked the calls he later received from the young men who now had jobs, were married and were also fathers.
This is his seventh year teaching at W-F High School.
Schroeder was able to coach all four of his children in track, as well as his son in basketball, since joining the district.
During his tenure at Rawhide, he received his certification in emotional and behavioral disabilities. After starting in the W-F district, he received his certification in cross-categorical special education.
Schroeder teaches three periods of sixth-grade social studies, and the rest of his day is spent working with special education students at the high school.
He got to be a social studies teacher after all.
Schroeder believes compassion, the ability to build relationships, consistency, encouragement, praise and unconditional love are the keys to his work as a special education teacher.
“I think I was just born with this compassion,” he said. “I think it’s something you can get better at, but it’s a gift.”
He enjoys seeing his students progress.
“I try to prepare them for the workforce. Be on time. Respect your boss,” Schroeder said. “The big quote I say to them a lot is, ‘Do more than your boss expects.’”
He remembers his first year teaching in the district.
Schroder was asked to teach English to a group of senior boys.
“All of our reading, writing, speaking was just to get them to be better young men, better husbands and fathers some day, better community members, better employees. The curriculum was about growing young men,” he said.
Outside of work
Schroeder is a Sunday School teacher at Calvary Bible Church, in Neenah.
He is also involved in the church’s program that matches people to work with Sunday school aged special needs children.
He, Kara and their children have had foster children in their home through the years.
Schroeder continues to travel to Zambia in Africa many summers to support an orphanage there.
This is the second consecutive year a special education teacher from the W-F School District received the state’s Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year Award. Susan Rucks was honored last year.
Schroeder will be recognized during a luncheon in April and as the state winner, is among those being considered for the national award.
Martin said Schroeder is an asset to the school district.
“Mr Schroeder exudes tremendous kindness and passion for each individual he interacts with. He is truly an inspiring human being,” Martin said. “He inspires success in his students who have never had success until they meet Mr. Schroeder. He also inspires other staff to raise the bar for their own care for others.”