New Fillmore Central K-2 special education teacher Kelsey Ristau has been enjoying the opportunity to teach students of the school she graduated from in 2008.
New Fillmore Central K-2 special education teacher Kelsey Ristau has been enjoying the opportunity to teach students of the school she graduated from in 2008.
"I see it as an opportunity to give back to the community and to the school district that gave me so much," said Kelsey Ristau, Fillmore Central Elementary School's newest special education teacher for kindergarten through second grade.

Ristau graduated from the Fillmore Central School District in 2008 knowing she wanted to teach students with learning disabilities. She began her major in that field at Winona State and pursued coaching and adaptive physical education minors.

Even while she attended college, Ristau admitted, her heart was still back where she grew up. "My goal was to get back to Fillmore Central," she explained, adding further, "This is a dream job."

She completed her student teaching requirement at Dover-Eyota schools, which helped her gain practical experience. "There is a lot involved in special education," she said noting how she learned how to deal with a lot of the paperwork and teaching strategies that make up most of the job. "It's a process."

Even through the paperwork, Ristau was able to strengthen her passion in teaching. "I love working with kids. They can brighten your day with a smile. They're very honest, trustworthy and they will work with you," she explained.

Following her student teaching in December of 2012, she was hired as a long-term substitute for Fillmore Central's preschool for four- and five-year-olds. Soon after that, she was hired on to the special education staff.

Ristau may be in her first year, but she thinks she brings a lot to her position because of having gone through the same school herself. "I know the process, the expectations and what is coming up for the kids. I feel a part of it right away."

Ristau said she often feels like she has never really left the school. "I've always been a Falcon at heart and had love for the school." That enthusiasm is coming through her work in special education.

Ristau currently has 11 students with whom she is working. The number of students who qualify for special education in kindergarten through second grade will vary throughout the year. Ristau has the responsibility of scheduling time with each student every day. The schedule changes from day-to-day because Ristau has to fit within the teachers' schedules.

"The scheduling is tough and I didn't think it would be right away. It's still being worked on," she said.

Once the student is in her classroom, Ristau teaches lessons that meet the student's individual needs. "They all have goals and want to work toward meeting those goals," she added.

The engagement of the student in learning is very important and Ristau noted how her hands-on approach to teaching is helping that. Students use the usual pencil and paper, crayons and markers. However, they also use Smart Boards, iPads and Play-Doh.

"I actually want to use more Play-Doh in the lessons," Ristau admitted.

With technology integration becoming a major focus throughout the Fillmore Central School District, Ristau has seen the benefits of using technology in her classroom. She uses iPads with students who need help with developing motor skills such as tracing and pinching.

"It is an interactive way for them to learn and the kids enjoy doing it," Ristau observed.

She also said it helps to have several different ways to teach the students in order to engage them more. Her favorite topic to teach is phonics. "It's weird because I did not like it when I was in school, but I did when I was in college," she laughed.

Even while she is teaching her students, Ristau said she feels she is learning a lot from them. "I always have something prepared," she stated, explaining how flexibility and being ready to move ahead is very important, especially if a student shows progress.

"No kid learns the same way as another," she said.

Ristau has also been learning how to more effectively utilize and improve relationships with staff, teachers and parents who all play important roles in her students' learning. "I'm holding myself accountable because I'm the person in charge of making sure everyone is on the same page," she added.

The confidence she has received from fellow teachers has been very helpful as she makes the first-time teacher transition. "I'm very thankful to have this opportunity," she concluded.

Ristau is using her coaching minor as the eighth grade volleyball coach and eighth grade girls basketball coach.

In her spare time she enjoys reading, gardening, going on walks and showing cattle as she only lives a few miles from her family's beef farm.