Barbara Eue, "the toughest lady in this building," has won the respect and loyalty of her students
The door to Barbara Eue's classroom at Washburn High School isn't especially well marked. A passerby could think the classroom door leads to a closet. But if they walk in they'll see a small classroom, roughly 12 boys, desks, a couple of computers and three teachers.
"[We] try to keep a low profile. [Mainstream] kids will pop in and say whoa! What room is this? And I say this is math… I want the boys to know I won't expose them. It's a trust thing," said Eue.
A veteran of over 20 years in the field, Eue has taught Washburn special education for the last nine years, with above-average results. Her students have a high attendance rate, rising scores on the basic skills tests, and over her nine-year tenure at Washburn every student she's taught who has made it to 12th grade has graduated.
It's an accomplishment she reminds her students of daily.
"Remember James [names have been changed]? He's in the military now, and he loves it. He's going to make it, just like you all are. You've just got to find something you love, like he did," Eue tells the class.
On Feb. 27, the Minnesota chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children awarded Eue the honor of Special Education Teacher of the Year. The national organization runs the teacher award like the Miss America pageant -- there were 50 nominees, one from each state, for a national Special Education teacher of the year award. Though Eue didn't win the national prize, she'll attend the Council's conference in Seattle with the 49 other state honorees.
But before Eue accepts any words of congratulations, she'll tell you that the successes in her classroom aren't just due to her.
"I couldn't have done it just myself, it's a team," she said. "These are my guys -- Curtis and Eric are the best role models for the boys."
She's referring to Curtis Archie and Eric Colston, educational assistants who have worked with Eue ever since she started at Washburn, 201 W. 49th St. That type of longevity is unusual in most educational settings, and unheard of in special education. It speaks to the relationship the three teachers have and the tone it sets in the classroom.
"We're a close-knit family. Whenever I have a problem, Ms Eue can always give me an honest opinion," said Archie. "The boys see that we love each other. We don't always agree, but we can agree to disagree and respect and trust each other."
The special-education classroom is classified as a Federal Setting III, for adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems. Eue said most of her students were diagnosed as needing a special-education classroom by 3rd or 4th grade. There's no one medical condition the setting works with, so she boils down the confusing state and federal special-education criteria.
"It comes down to that they can not handle being in a regular classroom," Eue said. "These boys have had such a history of behavioral problems and shuffled through programs that we have to build trust, to really give them hope or they'll give up on themselves."
The students have histories ranging from physical and psychological abuse, to coping with mental illness as well as problems with behavior and conduct.
There are usually 12 students in Eue's classroom; some stay with her the entire day -- 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- while others have shown the ability to take some mainstream classes.
For students who often have fractured family lives, the special-education room can be their most consistent family. During a lecture on genetics, Eue asks the class if they resemble any members of their family. After one student said he looked like his father and not his mother, Eue shot back, "I don't know about that. Curtis, doesn't he look just like his mother?"
Later, 9th-grader Andy Sobaski said the familial exchange is typical for this classroom.
"The staff here really cares. We're not just a statistic to them. I'm learning more here than I ever have before," he said.
Sobaski is typical in that he's shuffled through a few programs. He was expelled from the parochial school Our Lady of Peace, 5435 11th Ave. S., and felt unprotected by what he saw as lax discipline at Anthony Middle School, 5757 Irving Ave. S.
Diagnosed with clinical depression, Sobaski said he'd rather be in this classroom than any other setting.
Eue is aware the federal mandate to fund special education can be difficult to understand when dollars for general education are drastically cut.
"I'm extremely lucky in my line of work to have help. I don't think it's right that general-education teachers have 30 students with no education assistants. I wish there was enough for everyone…" she said.
Eue reports that she has an excellent relationship with mainstream teachers who have allowed some of Eue's students into their classrooms. Eue says that's because she goes the extra mile to make sure the students are ready for the mainstream class.
"When my boys are in the right, I'll go to the mat fighting for them. But when they are in the wrong, they know I'll be the first to call them on it," said Eue.
That may be why Washburn football coach Peter Haugan calls Eue "the toughest lady in this building."