For the City Times
STEVENS POINT — Lainey Braun is looking forward to crossing the stage at the Dec. 16 commencement ceremony at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, celebrating the hard work that went into earning her degree in just three and a half years and a Chancellor’s Leadership Award.
But what excites her the most is waiting for her in her hometown of Manitowoc – a classroom of her own.
A special education major, Braun will begin her first full-time job as a special education teacher at Lincoln High School on Jan. 21, 2018. Less than four years ago she was a senior at that same school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” she said, recalling her frustration in choosing a major. One decision was easy, however: She would attend UW-Stevens Point.
“After I visited the university, I knew that whatever I wanted to be, I’d find it at Point,” she said. “There were so many majors that if I’d changed my mind I knew I would find support there.”
During her senior year of high school, Braun volunteered in the special education classroom at Lincoln. Her father pointed out how happy and excited she was when she came home from school after working with students with special needs. “You should be a teacher,” he told her.
“I never looked back,” she said. “As soon as I applied to be an education major at UW-Stevens Point, I knew I was on the right track.”
Braun said she was impressed that she was already in a classroom by her second semester at the university, working closely with experienced teachers from many Stevens Point schools.
She also found those with common goals when she joined the Student Wisconsin Education Association organization, now called Aspiring Educators. The group takes part in education outreach programs in the community and attends professional conferences. As the group’s public relations coordinator, she honed communications and teamwork skills.
Through the Kappa Delta Pi education honor society, she took part in mock interviews and principal panels to prepare for the job search. She served on the Student Council for Exceptional Children and the National Society for Leadership and Success on campus.
“I had so many hands-on experiences through these organizations,” she said. “Those made a difference when I applied for my teaching job because the interviewer knew I had experience being part of a teaching community.”
Braun also found mentors in her professors and Maggie Beeber, her School of Education adviser. Beeber alerted her to a plan to help her graduate in three and half years, with several high school advanced placement credits and by taking a course during the January term.
“I was so excited to hear that,” she said. “Maggie knew the coursework so well that I felt I was in really good hands. UW-Stevens Point helped me get on my path as quickly and effectively as possible.”
When it came time for her required student teaching experience, she knew she wanted to live at home in Manitowoc. She was offered positions in nearby communities, but then learned the special education teacher at Lincoln had been promoted to a program support professional which left an opening. She was offered the job – as a paid intern for the first semester and as a full-time licensed teacher for the second.
Braun said everyone at Lincoln treats the graduate-turned-colleague with respect and as an equal. “I’m still getting used to calling my former teachers by their first names,” she said. Her younger brother is a senior, so she has enjoyed being at school with him.
Braun said she chose special education because her students have a different outlook on life. “They appreciate the little things and make the best out of every situation,” she said. She is inspired by their strength in the face of mental or behavioral challenges, and wants to support them any way she can so they can find jobs and success later in life.
“Working with them means I am a teacher, counselor, nurse, mom and listening ear, all wrapped into one,” she said. “This job is absolutely the best.”
Braun is eager to get back to teaching after graduation. “I’ve built a relationship with my students, so now I’ll have my degree and I can really start to work on advising them and make my own name at Lincoln as a teacher.”
She hopes to earn a master’s degree and become an administrator someday. “That way I can help even more kids,” she said.