LA Teacher Recognized
Finding the switch to light up a child’s face is sometimes elusive, but when it happens, that’s what makes everything worthwhile for Langford Area Special Education teacher Basil Knebel.
“The most rewarding thing is when I can see a student’s eyes light up and hear them say, ‘I get it now,’ said the 2003 Roslyn High School grad who has been teaching in Langford for five years.
For helping light up many of those faces at Langford Area, Knebel has been named the South Dakota Special Education Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education. Nominations for the honor must be made by parents of students, and Knebel’s nominator wrote that his efforts have been lifechanging.
“My son is almost unrecognizable from the one I enrolled at Langford this fall,” wrote a LA parent. “Under the guidance of Mr. Knebel, my child has met goals he never thought he could reach. He is proud and confident in his abilities. He has a report card I only dreamed about seeing from him. He informed me last week that he will be joining the band, a decision he made on his own. He comes home happy and wakes up ready to take on the day. I know none of this would be possible without Mr. Knebel. He saved my son. He has restored this mom’s belief in the educational system.”
“Basil’s personality and positive attitude make him an excellent educator,” added LA Superintendent Monte Nipp. “He really cares for his students and they can feel it. His dedication to his students is evident when watching him work one-on-one with them, plus he makes learning fun!”
The seed to become a teacher was planted early in Knebel’s life when he was just a first grader. “It was always in the back of my head to become a teacher. I thought of the typical little kid things like becoming a policeman or a truck driver, and I did spend a year in seminary, but teaching was always what my calling was,” said Knebel. “I attribute a lot of that to Fran Rougemont, my first grade teacher in Roslyn. “She loved teaching and made every moment as though that was the most important moment, making all the kids feel valued. Then, when I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to go volunteer in her room and worked with a couple of students who really struggled. “One boy in particular couldn’t grasp a math concept, so I told him if he skipped recess I would skip my morning break and we would finish it,” added Knebel. “Just to see the relief that came over that kid’s face and the calm he then had made it worth it.”
Looking back, Knebel said that experience likely planted the special education seed but it took a while to sprout.
“When I was in college people said that I would be really good in special ed, but at the time I said that wasn’t for me,” Knebel recalled. “I graduated from Northern State University in 2007 with degrees in elementary and early childhood education. I started teaching in an elementary classroom at Tiospa Zina and they were short special short special education teachers. I had already started working on my master’s program, and they asked me if I would be willing to move over to special ed. I was hesitant, but I did it, and when I got into it, it was the best think ever. I loved it.”
Knebel stayed at Tiospa Zina for five years, taught at St. Mary’s in Salem for three years in a first and second grade combined classroom, and then moved back to Langford Area as a special education teacher in 2015.
“When we moved back here that was the best thing ever to be able to raise kids with grandparents and be in the same school with them,” said Knebel. “That was worth everything.”
At Langford Area Knebel wears a lot of different hats. Normally the work load would be split among two teachers, but for part of the past year he has worked with up to 31 students. He works with K-5 at Langford Area, K-8 at Newport Colony, and this year took on grades 6-12 at Langford Area while the school was looking for a second teacher. He organizes all the special education paperwork and also coordinates the Section 504 plan which helps those not qualifying for special ed but need extra help.
The state honoree is quick to say that it is a team effort, beginning with his family.
“My wife and kids have to make sacrifices some days. I do bring a lot of stuff home because the work has to be done. But I have become very good at organizing my time. I also could not do the job without the amazing paraprofessionals and administration that I have. They are really the ones that make everything work.”
Knebel said that one of the biggest challenges is finding the right programming for each student, knowing that everything needs to be student-centered.
“A teacher can have a great idea in a classroom but sometimes that is not going to work with little Johnny with a disability,” Knebel stressed. “But the biggest thing is to care. My superintendent at Tiospa Zina used to say that children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and that has kind of stuck with me.
“If you can’t make a personal relationship with kids it is really hard to reach them at their darkest times,” concluded Knebel. “Not everyone is a success story – you do what you can to help the ones you can. But you have to still try to establish that relationship no matter what.”
“The biggest thing is to care. My superintendent at Tiospa Zina used to say that children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and that has kind of stuck with me.”