Schindler completes 48-year career as special ed teacher


By: Jane Schuchardt

Growing up on a farm near Palmer and while attending school, Louise Schindler discovered she had “an attraction to those who needed help.” She specifically remembers a classmate with muscular dystrophy who constantly got teased and pushed around.

“I’d help,” she said, 71 she is wrapping up 48 years of fulltime teaching special education, including parttime in summers. Her last day at the Nebraska Educational Service Unit’s Central Learning Center #8 (ESU-8) in Clearwater was May 16.  

Though she admitted it’s tough to leave the young people in dire need of learning basic skills, she’s looking forward to spending more time with her 11 grandchildren (five girls and six boys ages 2-22), catching up with lifelong friends, spending time with siblings, and finishing up her brick patio. 

As she struck a pose for a photo on the patio complete with water foundation, gazebo, firepit, and seating area north of the farmhouse, she quipped, “Come back when I get my flowers planted!” 

Though weeding, planting, and tending plants, along with along with her love of canning, baking, cooking, and hiking will fill her days in retirement years, she lamented, “I do love my teaching.” 

And no matter how hard it can be to teach a child with special needs, Schindler said that, when she took her first job with ESU-8 in 1976, “I made a vow to myself never to be a crabby teacher.” 

Evidently this mantra has worked since former students continue to stay in touch and approach her with thanks constantly. She shared one of many stories – “A student graduated at age 21, his mom helped him find an apartment. He called me when he was spending his first night alone saying his heart was pounding. We talked a long time. Today he works, makes his own food, gets a ride to his job, and contributes to society just like anyone else.” 

Before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became law in 1975, students such as those Schindler taught would be placed in institutional care or were kept at home. IDEA makes free appropriate public education and related services available to eligible youth with disabilities now through age 21, up from age 18. 

“We want them to be as independent as possible,” she said, and to meet their full potential without someone doing everything for them. “It’s so rewarding,” Schindler said with immense passion as she shared that “they have no skills when they come in.” First, she builds trust and regulation of emotions and then motivation to learn. 

The classroom is hands-on, learning by doing. For example, the learning lab might be shopping, or bowling, or going to the movies, or the kitchen or laundry room, always with caring and understanding of their home situation and their mental capability. Some students also have physical challenges. All classes are pass-fail based on the student’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP). 

Back on the farm about five miles northwest of Elgin, the one she and hubby Glen bought in 1974 when they married, Schindler said she’s not really involved in the livestock, corn, and beans operation. “I have three sons!” she said as she gleamed with pride about those sons, all from Elgin. The eldest works fulltime with the farming operation, and the other two work at Central Valley Ag and owns a heating and air conditioning business, respectively. She also has a daughter who lives in Clarkson. All are married. 

She got her teaching credential in 1975 as a graduate of the Kearney State College (now University of Nebraska at Kearney) with a Bachelor of Arts in Mental Retardation. 

“I hated that title,” she spouted and is thankful the name for these ‘special young people’ morphed over time to eventually be called special education. 

She also has endorsements in elementary education, learning disabilities, and transitioning to work. 

Schindler is a member of St. Boniface Catholic Church, Elgin, where she is a lector and circle member, and has provided religious education for youth. 

For Elgin’s Louise Schindler, a special education expert, let’s all take pride in how special she is to our community for the compassion, caring, and understanding she has shown toward her students. Thank you, teacher Louise.