By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus
For 36 years Theresa Lauden has been teaching in the special education department and 30 of those years were spent right here in Caledonia. Currently Lauden is on leave from the Caledonia School District, but she continues to work in the field as an instructor at Winona State University.
“The summer after my sophomore year at college I ended up living with my grandparents and taking care of a cousin that has spinal bifida. It was working with my cousin that made me realize that special ed is what I wanted to do, so I switched majors after my sophomore year.”
Prior to majoring in special ed Lauden was majoring in home economics. She feels the two majors were fairly compatible as both fields are about teaching people to be independent.
Lauden taught special education in North Dakota for her first four years, but moved to the La Crosse area with her husband who was attending UWL. It was not long before Lauden found a position in Caledonia’s Special Education Department.
“The school district is what sold me. I was impressed with the special ed programs that they had here,” said Lauden. However she admitted there was another incentive. “When I came for the interview they gave me a tour of the town and one of the things I looked for is if there was a swimming pool, and there was,” she explained. “Swimming is something I’ve always enjoyed and that was one of the highlights.” Currently Lauden is on the Caledonia Pool Committee.
For the first four years at Caledonia Lauden worked at the elementary school with students who had mild cognitive disabilities. After four years she was moved to the high school.
“At the time I cried, I didn’t want to go, but once I got there I loved it. So I guess you can’t be afraid to do new things.” Once at the high school Lauden worked with students with mild and moderate disabilities.
After a while Lauden’s program was combined with the students who had severe and profound disabilities. She was asked to teach the class, but she was not certified, so she took classes at Mankato State University to get her master’s degree.
“One of the highlights was the year we received a student who was a selective mute and hadn’t talked in school,” Lauden recalled. The student would talk at home but refused to communicate in school.
“We got him as a seventh grader and by the end of October he was talking.”
For Lauden the greatest challenge has been working with students who are non-verbal as they are only able to communicate through behavior.
“When you are placing demands on a students, asking them to do something and they feel lousy, you don’t know that.” However Lauden has become something of an expert at interpreting body language.
“I am a firm believer that all behavior is a form of communication and that is one of the things I stress with my college students.”
Lauden also had nothing but positive things to say about the people she has worked with in Caledonia.
“Over the years I’ve had the help of a group of para-professionals that were amazing. They were all there for the kids. There has been a lot of school district support and from the other teachers.
Winona State instructor
Two year ago Lauden went on voluntary leave from the Caledonia District to become an instructor at Winona State University. For the last 20 years at Caledonia, Lauden would have student teachers assisting her and college department heads would stop in to check the progress of their students. Then a few years ago one of the department heads recruited Lauden.
“As much as I loved working with the students here it was time for a change,” Lauden explained. “Now I am basically teaching students to do what I’ve done for the last 36 years.”
Looking back at her time as a teacher, Lauden had only positive things to say about the people she worked with over the years.
“Teaching special education is definitely a team sport,” said Lauden. She cited all the various teachers and professionals that take part in helping students. “It takes a village.”
In addition, Lauden praised the parents in the community who started all the group homes throughout Houston County, as well such organizations like ABLE and ABC Woodland Industries. “Houston County has wonderful services and you have to give credit to the parents.”
Currently Lauden is working part time at Winona State and still works as a substitute in the area, including Caledonia, La Crescent, and Rushford-Peterson. She continues to enjoy working with the special ed community.
“It isn’t just academics, you’re teaching cooking skills, daily living skills, and recreational skills.”
For Lauden, every day is something new, saying “it’s never a boring day. There’s never a dull moment.”