Sarah (Kassebaum) Radtke’03,’19 never planned to be a full-time special education teacher, but now she can’t imagine doing anything else—and it was the MLC master’s program that opened the door.
A Long and Winding Road: Like many women who marry seminary students, Sarah’s vocational journey was a winding one. She began with an assignment to Mount Olive-Las Vegas. Then she taught in one-year stints as she and her husband, Ben Radtke, moved for Ben’s vicar year, senior year, and assignment to St. Martin’s in Watertown, South Dakota. A few years at home with the children followed. And when the kids went to school, Sarah went back to work, once again in one-year stints, this time in Watertown’s alternative education and special ed programs.
Sarah continued her professional growth too, enrolling in MLC’s master’s program in 2012 initially to keep her Minnesota teaching license current. She chose the special ed emphasis because she wanted to learn ways to serve students with special needs in a general classroom. As she gained more teaching experience in Watertown schools, however, she realized she really enjoyed working primarily with special ed students.
That’s when she committed to finishing the program. She spoke to MLC Director of Graduate Studies John Meyer and also South Dakota certification officers to ensure that her credits would apply toward both her master’s degree at MLC and the special ed endorsement on her South Dakota license.
Meaningful Professional Growth: “The courses helped me grow,” she says, “in that I had a greater appreciation for the varying gifts God has given to us and the students we work with. This is especially important in special education.”
She particularly enjoyed the course Transition Planning and Collaboration, where she learned how to ease students’ transitions from grade to grade, school to school, and school to life-after-school. And while most of the other program participants were teaching in a Lutheran school, she enjoyed sharing her public school perspective during the course discussions.
The Degree Opened the Door: As Sarah neared the end of her program, she planned to continue working as a teacher’s assistant in the alternative ed program. But Watertown district officials had other ideas. Knowing her diploma and endorsement would soon be in hand, they asked her to interview for a special ed teacher position and then hired her.
Last year she worked at two schools, primarily with students in grades 2-4. Because she didn’t quite have the requisite degree, she provided services to students on her caseload and wrote IEPs under the supervision of another special ed teacher. This year, fully endorsed, she’s on her own, full-time at Roosevelt Elementary, working with K-2 students, teaching reading, writing, math, and social skills.
“It has been such a blessing to be at one school and get to know the students and my colleagues better,” she says. “There are many difficult aspects of special education, such as the paperwork and handling difficult behaviors, but I enjoy working with students individually and in small groups so they can make growth toward their goals.”
Sarah is also part of her school’s PBIS (positive behavior intervention strategies) team. “We are working to be proactive about behavior management for all students,” she says. “Our main focus is building strong relationships with students and setting clear expectations for them.”
In the Right Place: Sarah had not imagined being a full-time special ed teacher when she graduated from MLC in 2003, and she certainly hadn’t imagined teaching full-time in the public school system, but she says it’s become the best way for her to serve. “I believe I’m at the right place right now. I have learned so much in my experience.”
She also shares strategies and resources with the teachers at St. Martin’s, where her children attend. “I want to be able to give any support I can to those teachers, because it is such a blessing to serve those students in the Lutheran school. They get to hear about Jesus every day while having their academic and social needs met as well.”
She Recommends the Grad Program: To other teachers considering an MLC graduate degree, Sarah has nothing but encouragement.
“I would recommend it as a fantastic way to grow as an educator. The graduate program has been blessed with so many knowledgeable professors with a range of experiences to share with students. They work hard to provide the best for students and are also genuinely caring.
“In addition to learning from the teachers,” she adds, “there is a wealth of knowledge to learn from the other students in the courses.”
For Sarah, the MLC MS-Ed degree opened the door to an unexpected avenue of service. Even she’s a little surprised: “I was not always interested in special education. I thought that I would go back to the general education classroom after my kids started school. Now I love what I do and couldn’t imagine going back.”
Sarah Radtke ’03,’19
Sarah and Ben have two children, Elijah (11) and Abigail (9), and two cats the kids named Bow and Oreoh.
Ben is pastor at St. Martin’s, and Sarah teaches Sunday school and assists with Lutheran Pioneers there.
The Radtkes like disc golf and travel, having been to the Caribbean, Florida, Alaska, New York City, Maine, and a few Canadian provinces. Sarah especially likes learning the history of her travel destinations, and she notes that she’s been to every state but Hawaii, Oregon, and Utah.
Mount Olive-Las Vegas: K-1 (MLC assignment: two years)