Danielle Raabe was planning on a future in sports medicine when she attended Black Hill State University to play basketball.

But after her freshman year, her coach helped her get a job at Northern Hills Training Center, a program that supports adults in the community with special needs.

“I fell in love with the job and the clients. The next year, I switched to a double major in special education and elementary education,” she said.

Post-graduation, Raabe moved to the Twin Cities and applied for a job at Chaska Middle School. Now, 14 years later, she was named Teacher of the Year by the District 112 Foundation.

Raabe is a center-based special education teacher with the Discovery program, which supports learners who have cognitive or physical disabilities. The South Dakota native helped develop the program and works with a small group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“I have the same group of students for three years in a row, which I absolutely love because I can develop really strong relationships with them. It’s great to see the progress they make in those years,” she said.

The newspaper caught up with Raabe between classes on Sept. 10.

1. I know it’s early, but how has the school year been going so far?

"There’s definitely a little bit of anxiety and stress around not knowing what the year will look like. I want to have everything in place to make sure our students are safe and healthy. We’re preparing the different models, but there’s a lot of variables and factors that can change everything.

(The first day of school) was so great. Seeing how happy and excited the kids were to be back, it just makes everything better.”

2. How did you react when you heard you were Teacher of the Year?

“I’m typically more shy and reserved, I like to have my actions speak for myself and not be the center of attention. Initially, I was kind of embarrassed that I would be in the spotlight! It was a bit overwhelming to get recognized, but it’s a privilege and an honor.

It’s an honor to have people recognize what you do, and for the (Discovery) program to get the recognition it deserves. It’s not just me, the people who work within the program do such an amazing job. Now more people know about it and can find out what we do and how we support the students. That’s what really makes my job special — the students I work with are amazing.”

3. What’s your favorite part of teaching?

“The big reason is my students. Each student is so unique and special, they just bring a different skill set and strengths to the classroom. It’s so fun to get to know each of their personalities and work with them.

Problem-solving and adapting to each day is also a big part of my job. Every day is a little different, and we have to be flexible with what we’re doing to meet the needs of our learners. I like that I get to come up with new ways to make learning fun, engage the students and help them become more independent.”

This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

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