Clintonville teacher finds her calling
Bessette receives Kohl Foundation award
By Greg Seubert
An elementary school teacher in Clintonville is one of the latest to receive a Herb Kohl Teaching Fellowship Award.
Suzzann Bessette teaches early childhood special education students at Rexford-Longfellow Elementary School and recently received a $6,000 grant from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. The Clintonville Public School District also received a matching grant.
Bessette is in her fifth year in the district after six years as a 4K and early childhood special education teacher in the Gillett School District.
“I can’t even begin to describe the rush of emotions that I experienced upon receiving the Herb Kohl Teaching Fellowship Award,” she said. “The support that has been given from my family and friends, coworkers and the Gillett and Clintonville community is unbelievable.
“I feel like this award is a huge step for special education,” she said. “All too often, special education teachers work behind the scenes and although our talents are celebrated in our district, they aren’t typically recognized at a state level. To feel validated, supported and acknowledged by the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation is truly an honor.”
Bessette is originally from Bowler; graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; and lives in Shawano with her husband, Ryan, and children, Luella and Stetson.
“My mom was the agency manager for a local Special Olympics team,” Bessette said. “I found that I loved coaching the athletes in various sports, so I pursued a degree in education. When I accepted my position in Gillett, I got teaching experience in both a general and special education setting.
“While there, I worked closely with this amazing little girl and her family,” she said. “Together, we had the opportunity to laugh, cry, celebrate success and navigate obstacles and it was in that moment that I knew I wanted to focus solely on special education.”
Bessette focuses her teaching energy on special needs students.
“I work with children in all types of environments such as Rexford-Longfellow elementary and 4K classrooms, Head Start, local childcare settings and families’ homes,” she said. “I find so much joy getting to know students, their families and other teachers who are involved in their education.”
The job is rewarding in several ways, according to Bessette.
“Without hesitation, watching my students succeed and grow is at the top of the list,” she said. “The relationships I have developed with families and organizations in the community is also vital and the companionship and friendships that have been created since I started teaching will last a lifetime.”
Bessette said she has been able to make a difference in her students’ lives.
“I not only want to make an impact with the students I work with, but so much of my teaching philosophy is based on family involvement,” she said. “I can only hope that I leave a positive lasting impression with the families I encounter.
“I am often the first person from the district that families meet as their child is referred for special education, so navigating those situations with understanding, acceptance and support is incredibly important,” she said. “I always inform parents that when necessary, I will advocate for their child and their education. I hope that the students and families I work with feel valued, encouraged and safe. I feel like making a positive connection between home and school is vital for the success of all.”
Bessette said several teachers inspired her as a student.
“Some of the most influential people in my life have been teachers and they played a vital role in my career choice,” she said. “I feel I hold them in such high regard because they not only supported me in my education, but also got to know who I was as a person and pushed me to be the best version of myself.
“My first-grade teacher, Gloria Steinberg, showed me unconditional love as my mom battled cancer,” she said. “My ag teacher/FFA adviser, Jerry Ashenbrenner, helped me find my voice and confidence through public speaking and my college adviser, Yomi Ogunnaike-Lafe, is deeply passionate about education and her lessons on social-emotional learning and family involvement helped create the foundation upon which I have built my teaching career.”
Bessette said opportunities have made her the teacher she is today.
“I honestly feel that I am the educator I am today because of the opportunities I have been given and the team I work with,” she said. “Without my coworkers’ support and trust from administration, I would not be nearly as confident in my skills as a special education teacher.
“I also have had endless encouragement from my family, especially on the days where I feel defeated and overwhelmed,” she added. “They remind me of my true calling as an educator.”
Bessette isn’t sure what she’ll do with her grant money.
“My daughter is convinced we need to take a trip to Disney World, but I haven’t made any plans on how I will spend the funds,” she said. “I’d like to give back to organizations that support children with special needs and maybe splurge a little on myself and my family.”