Julie Carlblom

Julie Carlblom is retiring from St. Peter Public Schools after 21 years in the district. (Katie Sonnek/St. Peter Herald)

Julie Carlblom’s 21 years of experience have shown her that the most important part of teaching anything is getting to know the students.

“You can’t teach them if you don’t have a relationship,” Carlblom said. “You ask the students a lot of questions, you encourage them. Even if they’re acting out, you find the thing you can encourage them for.”

The long-time South Elementary special education teacher recalled a recent memory of a little girl who ran out of her classroom and hid in the school media center. Carlblom decided to sit with her and learn what was wrong.

“She said, ‘Ahh! I’m not going with you!’” Carlblom remembered. “And I said, ‘I don’t want you to come with me, I just want us to talk about it. What do you think you need?”

Once the student had calmed down, she shared that she didn’t want the school year to end so soon.

“I said, ‘Oh, I know. That makes me feel sad too. I bet you’re feeling really sad.’” said Carlblom. “You really do have to validate their feelings. They need someone to listen, and if you can’t listen, then let them draw it. Sometimes they don’t have the words.”

Carlblom’s empathy for her students and her appreciation for them as individuals are her secret ingredients to a successful career. These traits also convinced her that she was meant to give teaching a try despite her initial doubts.

“When I was a little girl I always wanted to teach, but in college you had to take math and I’m not good with math, so I decided to be a social worker,” she laughed.

Carlblom went on to marry, have children, and work as a paraprofessional for the Saint Peter School district. After gaining some experience, Carlblom had the opportunity to kickstart a local Level 4 program for kids with emotional and behavioral disorders. She worked with Level 4 for around 5-8 years and then was hired by South Elementary.

Throughout her experience with special education, Carlblom discovered a deep love of and concern for kids, particularly those who were unable to learn at the same rate as their peers. She found that all her students needed the same patience and attention regardless of actual age.

“Kids just need a little extra support,” Carlblom said. “Special ed. is there to help that child with the needs that they have.” She has worked her whole career to dispel the stereotype that students in special education are slower than their peers. “If they could learn the way everyone else learns, they would be in the regular education classroom, but because their learning style is different, we need to find out what strategies are going to help them more.”

Carlblom’s teaching style was greatly impacted by a mental health worker from Social Services, who shared with her the idea that children who experience trauma get stuck at the age that the trauma occurred. This concept struck a chord with Carlblom, who mentioned that it has greatly impacted the way she’s viewed special education ever since.

“Here, when kids act like they’re 3-4 years old, they probably had some trauma at that [age], and so their bodies can’t totally progress forward from that trauma unless they get mental health help,” she said.

Fellow teacher Beth Kallaus feels that Carlblom’s best quality as a teacher is the joy she takes in her students.

“She just really loves every kid. Kids are people to her, they’re just miraculous little beings. She’s always ready to be there and make sure they have what they need,” Kallaus shared.

Overall, Carlblom’s favorite memories from working at South Elementary are of being able to dismiss her students from the special education program.

“I love that. That’s what we’re supposed to be able to do,” she said. “It’s because of the strategies and the interventions we’ve taught them.”

Carlblom’s face lit up as she discussed former students who had successfully transitioned into the regular education track. Although she missed each child who exited her program, she was always delighted at their growth.

Now that she has retired, Carlblom looks forward to spending more time with her nearby grandchildren and visiting her daughter in Portland, OR. She also dreams of a major vacation, maybe to New Zealand or Australia.

“That will have to wait till my husband retires,” she laughed.

Carlblom will miss her teaching days, but has clearly taken the advice she so frequently gave her students: Affirming one’s feelings and then deciding on the best available course of action.

“No feelings are bad,” she said. “It’s what you do with them.”

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