Interest in helping others started young and parlayed it into 40-year career
Stephanie Dahmen was interested in helping others learn as far back as elementary school, when she would work with the other kids in her class.
She parlayed that passion into a more than 40-year career as a special-education teacher, the past 21 at Otsego Elementary School.
Dahmen has taught in the Elk River Area School District since 1976, splitting time between Lincoln and Handke elementary schools before moving to Otsego in 1995. She said she has always tried to make kids feel good about their abilities and excited about learning.
“I really have a strong feeling for the students and their families and wanting to have things be good and positive for them,” she said.
Dahmen, a Bloomington native, began her teaching career in the Kiester-Walters School District in southern Minnesota after graduating from St. Cloud State. She started the special-education program in the district, working with about 15 students of varying ages and abilities.
Dahmen said she learned that year to look specifically at each student and find out what his or her needs were. She said she also learned how to develop strong relationships with parents and families of students and to be empathetic of their situations.
“A lot of those families were farming families, (and) the kids would be up real early to help with chores,” Dahmen said. “You needed to be understanding that was a part of their life, too.”
Dahmen moved to the Elk River district a couple of years later. She said what she takes away most from her time is the memories of the students with whom she has worked.
“Kids can surprise the heck out of us,” she said, noting the successes her students have had over the years. “I love hearing about how they are and what they are doing.”
Special-education teacher Kristin Rutz has worked with Dahmen for the past five years and student-taught with her in 2008. She said Dahmen is a great role model who is dedicated and passionate about teaching kids with disabilities.
“She’s kind of our go-to person when it comes to different academic interventions,” Rutz said. “She was always just very welcoming and inviting (and) always willing to share her experience.”
Rutz said she will miss how sweet and flexible Dahmen is, noting that she became not only a mentor but a friend. Rutz was one of about 30 teachers who student-taught for Dahmen over the years, many of whom are still teaching in the district.
Dahmen said she plans on enjoying life post-retirement, adding that she will visit her sons who live in New York. She said she is still learning new things in her final weeks of teaching and plans on tutoring a couple of students over the summer.
“Everything that I know is because of her,” Rutz said. “She’s just a staple in our school.”