For Shari Jerde, teaching is all about building relationships with students. It’s what she has enjoyed most about her career, especially at Community High School, where taking time to get to know students on an individual basis is encouraged, she said.
Jerde, who has been selected recently as Grand Forks Public Schools' 2020-21 Teacher of the Year, said it’s important to “get connected to what their life’s journey has been, and sometimes that kind of explains a lot for us, as educators.”
“I think when we get to know more about our students -- and maybe even their values or their work ethic and see what makes them tick -- then we’ve got an ‘in’ to work with them much better,” she said.
Jerde, who joined the Grand Forks school system in 1999 as an adult education instructor, is a business education teacher and family and consumer sciences teacher at Community High School. She also has taught at Red River and Grand Forks Central high schools, Central Valley and Bottineau public schools and UND. She taught at Community from 1999-2008 and rejoined it in 2018.
In her work at Community, she said, “I would say I get the most satisfaction out of seeing a student who has self-doubt about their learning become confident in their learning and find success, because a lot of our students haven’t found success in education. And so it really makes a person’s heart warm to see that.”
About her students at the alternative school, she said, “I think, for many of them, it’s their life happenstance that has been the struggle. And for many of them they didn’t necessarily ask for the situations they were put in -- whether it’s because they had to work, instead of going to school, to earn money for their family, or a teen pregnancy or, you know, there’s so many different situations.
“So I don’t think that the other system necessarily failed them,” she said. “I just think that they probably can find success and learn best in this alternative setting.”
Jerde took a different route, perhaps, than most others on her way to becoming a teacher.
After graduating from Wolford, N.D., High School, she didn’t attend college until age 21.
“I was working some part-time jobs, and just decided I had more to offer than just this part-time job kind of gig in retail,” she said.
She draws from her own experience in working with and developing an understanding of her students.
“I think that’s true for almost all of us,” she said. “Our life experience lends to how we interact with others and how we understand people better.”
Jerde earned an associate’s degree in applied science from North Dakota State University-Bottineau -- now Dakota College in Bottineau, a bachelor’s degree in business education from Minot State University, and two master’s degrees from UND -- one in career and technical education and the other in special education.
“My proudest accomplishment is that every degree that I have earned in education has been while balancing work and home life and parenting,” she said. That accomplishment “also came back around and had built maybe some character for my own daughters to see.”
Looking back, she said she was encouraged to pursue an education degree when, after earning an associate degree, she was working as a secretary in the Minot State University education department and she showed a longtime professor how to accomplish a computer task.
The professor was so impressed she asked Jerde, why aren’t you teaching this? Jerde remembered. “And so it really was with that prompting that I decided to pursue my education degree.”
Praise from colleagues
Jerde also has made a lasting impression on her colleagues.
Marilyn Ripplinger, counselor at Community, described her as “honest, hardworking and organized.”
“(She spends) hours developing modified curriculum, planning and meeting with teachers to discuss student needs,” Ripplinger said in a letter of nomination for the award. “Shari is a true professional and prioritizes communication with all stakeholders involved in the educational process. She is always going the extra mile and putting others before herself.”
Ripplinger praised Jerde for her ability to “develop meaningful relationships which allow her to get the most from her students. She is approachable, reasonable and flexible, placing student concerns above the content.
“She definitely contributes in a big way to the culture of respect and success at Community High School.”
Another colleague, Eileen Zygarlicke, an English teacher, said Jerde “has collaborated on many occasions with different curricula areas to create learning experiences” for students, such as her work with her fashion design students to create custom-built, adaptive Halloween costumes for two students who use wheelchairs. The result was a Cinderella-theme carriage with lights and a Star Wars fighter.
“She engages her students with meaningful, real-life experiences in her classroom,” Zygarlicke said, noting that one such experience involved opening a “restaurant,” in conjunction with English, art and math classes, challenging students to collect survey data, design a logo and marketing materials, and other tasks.
Jerde also collaborates with families “by inviting them into the education process,” Zygarlicke said. “She reaches out to parents and guardians with positive comments about their teen, laying a foundation of communication. If problems arise, she has an already-established relationship, and together they work to help the student.”
For Jerde, it is her connection with students that she fosters and values most.
On the first day of class, instead of rules, she hands out a list of what they can expect from her, she said, “somebody who cares, somebody who wants to know your story and somebody who wants to work with you.”
Then she takes every opportunity to get to know them through informal exchanges.
“It really is just building those little conversations along the way that helps to give you an insight for the student,” she said.
“I do think, once they know you care and you’re genuine, then you’ve got ‘em; they’re hooked. But it takes time.”