LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Jane Holper Schirmer

Position: Special Education/Life Skills Teacher
School: Maine West High School
School District: Maine Twp. High School District 207
City, State: Des Plaines, IL

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Jane Holper's nominator would like to remain anonymous.

The Educational Life Skills Program at Maine West educates some of the most amazing students, and there is no better fit to teach these students than Ms. Holper. She radiates the utmost kindness, patience, dedication, and love to each and every one of her students.

Ms. Holper exemplifies what it means to be a teacher for students with special needs. She understands the complexities of low incidence disabilities, but never allows an eligibility or diagnosis to dictate what a student can achieve. She acknowledges and celebrates each individual student’s strengths, their ability to achieve, and the value they add to the school community. This is evident in all that she does to supports students with disabilities. 

There are many examples of Ms. Holper’s incredible skill as an educator. There can be times during the school day where students may be experiencing an overload of emotions, which causes them to demonstrate negative behaviors. Ms. Holper works 1-on-1 with the student until they are able to regroup, which can take multiple hours.

“I work extremely close with Jane, and there is never a moment where she waivers in any of those qualities,” says a fellow educator. “Jane embodies what a selfless teacher looks likes. She is always smiling and puts her heart and soul into teaching these students, who can struggle behaviorally, academically, and/or social emotionally at times.” 

For the past few years, Ms. Holper has been seen at various events with students in her life-skills classes. Without any additional compensation, she arranges for her students to come to football games, the homecoming dance, prom and other events. The constant is that she is always there helping to chaperone and provide these experiences for her students. Many times, students with special needs are left out when it comes to the social aspects of a comprehensive high school. Ms. Holper ensures this is not the case at Maine West High School, as she ensures her students are always at these important events.

Another example of her selfless service to what is best for students was when she gave up her lunch period during the first few weeks of her school’s new block scheduling implementation. At the time, the students didn’t have enough structured activities for the duration of lunch. Until more suitable programming could be planned, Ms. Holper and some teaching assistants provided activities and hands-on materials so that students would have something to engage them during the new longer block period.

If all of this weren’t enough, Ms. Holper designs and implements rigorous curricula within her classroom that meets each student’s developmental level and pushes them to become as independent as possible. For example, she has spent countless hours enriching her room with visuals, manipulatives and materials designed individually for each student so they can access their education to the maximum extent possible. Students can easily share what they are learning, what behavior they are trying to work on, and what reward they can earn due to her classroom leadership.

Because of the individualized nature of her materials, students require minimal prompts to be able to access and communicate their needs. She is masterful in teaching students functional academic skills and generalizing those skills within the community in order to give students the application they need to succeed outside of school. For example, she and her students can be observed within the community multiple times a week practicing and mastering daily living skills. Students can be seen communicating verbally, with visuals, or with augmentative communication devices, which gives them experience/independence, and the community learns how to best tailor communication to meet their needs.

Ms. Holper has also collaborated with other staff in order to increase vocational training opportunities within the building in order to expand experiences and build skills for students. Furthermore, she understands the importance of family participation and has worked to increase the home-school partnership by communicating multiple times a week with parents. Not only does she stay after school talking to parents, but she has written daily notes home and has incorporated differentiated writing prompts into her English class so that students can communicate to their parents what they have learned that week. For a parent, it is invaluable to hear from their child about what they are learning and how they are progressing.

“Ms. Holper has an inviting personality that exemplifies the qualities we want in our entire faculty, which includes patience, passion and love for her students and what she does,” a fellow educator says. “In addition, she builds positive relationships with her students and parents that are a model for others. She respects her students and has helped the entire school to respect them and see their many abilities, not just their disabilities.”

Ms. Holper always has a smile on her face and positive attitude, no matter what has happened or how rough the day has been. Above all else, it is her love and respect for students that is something to be admired. It is contagious and has had an impact on the larger school community. Through her teaching and inclusive practices, the school community has learned from Ms. Holper and her students. Her impact has not only changed the lives of her students, but the lives of all that have the pleasure of working/interacting with them.



Comments (27)


Jovanna Feldman Posted 3 months ago

I have had the honor to work with Jane at two different high schools totaling 12 years. In those 12 years, I can honestly say Jane is one of the most (if not, THE most) positive, hardworking, helpful, dedicated, funny, caring, supportive educators I have ever worked with. Kids gravitate to Jane because they feel how committed she is... they know they can count on her and get the help they need. As a colleague of Jane's, she has helped me, guided me, and SO many others. I was always in so much awe how much she got done.. she always went way above and beyond every single day.. and with a smile and the best sense of humor. She is truly impressive on so many levels. She is absolutely, 100%, deserving of this award, she is the best of the best. I am so happy for her!

Mark McElligott Posted 3 months ago

I have never worked with anyone that has the passion or drive that Jane has. In 3 years I have seen her put more out of school hours into her students/program than many teachers do in 10 years. She always has a smile on her face and sees the best in ALL of her students. She has worked with some of the most challenging students and is genuinely excited for the opportunity to serve them. Her communication with parents is second to none, and allows her to really set up students for success. Jane could not be more deserving of this nomination!

Sara Wadhwa Posted 4 months ago

Jane is an amazing educator with innovative ideas. She always is full of energy and never seems to have a bad day even when dealing with a challenging student. She truly is a life changer for all the students in her classroom and their families. She is a great colleague and is always willing to collaborate to meet her students needs and also to help with any other issues or concerns. Congrats Jane, well deserved!!!

thomas stettner Posted 4 months ago

Jane Holper is a selfless professional, a caring friend, and a loving mother. When no one is looking Jane is reading students' files looking for information on how to help an individual student, working in her classroom to prepare the next lesson or working on her IEP paperwork. Jane is THE go to person for all things life-skills at Maine West.

Sheila Mallon Posted 4 months ago

Jane is an enthusiastic and caring educator who finds creative ways to engage her students. Her tireless dedication is unmatched and this nomination is well-deserved. She has made a great impact on our department and I am proud to call her my colleague.

Claudia Rueda-Alvarez Posted 4 months ago

I have always believe that “it does not take a special person to teach highly motivated, highly skilled students, the true heroes are those who can take the most vulnerable of our kids, the ones who doubt their skills and abilities and turn them into secured, happy, and motivated learners.” That is Jane Holper. She has raised the bar for what our students with special needs in the Life Skills Program can do and accomplish and has provided the supports so they can reach that bar. In the process, she has shown all of us how compassion, energy, and commitment to our students can change children’s lives and the life of adults around them. She is the perfect recipient of this recognition.

Lisa M Jacob Posted 4 months ago

I have had the pleasure of working with Mrs. Holper in a cross curricular setting. Jane is always so full of life, love, and positivity. She is inspiring to watch as she guides students with special needs . She is ever so patient and her joy is evident by her contageous smile and soft spoken demeanor with every individual student. I have such respect and admiration for the way she does her job. She is truely gifted in her field. She always greets you with an energy filled smile, no matter what she may have gone through during the course of her day. . I am so proud to work with someone who loves their job and the students in her charge so much. She is an inspiration!

Mary Dankowski Posted 4 months ago

Jane is dedicated to her students and to her career as a teacher. She has an innate ability to insure that all of her students are treated with respect, understanding, and compassion She teaches them responsibility and encourages them to be part of their school and community. Jane breaks down tasks so that the students can feel successful in their endeavors, while learning to work collaboratively with peers and adults. The environment in the classroom promotes independence and risk taking. She spends countless hours preparing for the day, arriving early and leaving late. Routine is essential to the development of her students' independence. Jane takes great pride in providing.tasks, which help reinforce skills during their free time. and instill the confidence they need to move forward. Her relationship with the parents is another component that supports the students' progress. Their smiles and caring for one another is evident , and is due to the team work displayed in the classroom . Jane and her assistants work hard to engage the students and help them feel successful. Congratulations Jane on this wonderful award!

Jennifer Stutheit Posted 4 months ago

I teach in another department, so I don't get to see Jane every day, but I wish I did! Her positive attitude is contagious! When you have a conversation with her you know that she is listening and genuinely cares about what you are saying. Her students are lucky to have her as their teacher!

Hannah Roe Posted 4 months ago

Jane is one of the most amazing educator and colleague. Jane treats her students like they are her own and goes above and beyond her job description to support her students. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work so closely with her, and learn from her.

Melissa Kaufman Posted 4 months ago

I cannot think of a more deserving person or teacher to receive the acknowledgement of Life Changer of the Year. I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career at the same school as Jane. Luckily for this first time special education teacher, I was able to share an office with Jane. Jane was not my coach but she might as well have been. Jane approaches all people, students and peers, with the same genuine respect and caring, that simply put...makes us all feel better supported. I'm not sure how many times I asked Jane questions those first two years, but she never wavered in providing the time and feedback I needed to navigate being a first time teacher. Jane could always been found with students stopping by our office to check or get support, which is further evidence of her ability to make connections with students and build a trust and support system that allowed our diverse learners to seek her out day in and day out. Jane was always happy to show me lessons so that I could model some of my own after her. This helped me more than she probably knows because Jane was so organized and able to provide detailed and specific lessons for each of her students based on their individual needs. My only regret is not having had more time to work with Jane. Jane, thank you for making me a better teacher, being a friend, and changing the lives of countless students.

Ken Wallace Posted 4 months ago

I am incredibly proud of Jane for many reasons, first of which is simply her characteristics as a teacher and learner. We strive in District 207 to put the very best teacher possible in every classroom, and Jane has simply been a tremendous teacher for her students and the type of teacher and person that we are proud to have in our classrooms. Additionally, we have really focused on improving the overall quality of our special education program here in District 207, and bringing in teachers like Jane is one of the key ways that we continue to improve our mission of improving learning for all students. Well done!

Melissa Kaufman Posted 4 months ago

I cannot think of a more deserving person or teacher to receive the acknowledgement of Life Changer of the Year. I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career at the same school as Jane. Luckily for this first time special education teacher, I was able to share an office with Jane. Jane was not my coach but she might as well have been. Jane approaches all people, students and peers, with the same genuine respect and caring, that simply put...makes us all feel better supported. I'm not sure how many times I asked Jane questions those first two years, but she never wavered in providing the time and feedback I needed to navigate being a first time teacher. Jane could always been found with students stopping by our office to check or get support, which is further evidence of her ability to make connections with students and build a trust and support system that allowed our diverse learners to seek her out day in and day out. Jane was always happy to show me lessons so that I could model some of my own after her. This helped me more than she probably knows because Jane was so organized and able to provide detailed and specific lessons for each of her students based on their individual needs. My only regret is not having had more time to work with Jane. Jane, thank you for making me a better teacher, being a friend, and changing the lives of countless students.

Michael Kerns Posted 4 months ago

There is no more deserving teacher to be bestowed with the title of "Life Changer of the Year". As a former colleague, I had the honor of co-teaching a class with Jane. This was my second year teaching. Not only did her dedication, knowledge, and sincerity impact students, but it impacted me significantly as well. She has a incredible knack for making course work real for students, offering personal anecdotes related to the text we covered in class that often had the students roaring with laughter. Similarly the activities she created for class were done with clear structure, breaking down instructions and steps to completion that made even the most difficult tasks feel attainable to struggling students. And the manner in which she handled misbehaving students has ever-since influenced my own approach. One such moment stands out. A student (who was regularly distracted and distracting) was causing a disruption. I approached the student, speaking loudly and quickly demanding that he stop what he was doing. And I was promptly ignored. Jane walked over, calmly knelt besides the student, putting her hand on his shoulder, and in a gentle but forceful voice called him by name and said "I need you get back to work please". Which he immediately responded to. It was clear why that worked better. There were dozen of such moments that year where she was teaching both the students and me. Kudos to Jane, there's not a better teacher out there!

Kathi Holper Posted 4 months ago

Long before she had to declare a major, Jane knew what her career would be - teaching students with special needs. I have always been so proud of her decision and the enormous amount of time and effort she puts into her days working with her students. Jane has the right combination of a serious work ethic and an amazing sense of humor. The families of her students must feel so lucky to have their children working with her. Yes, I am Jane’s mother! And I am so very proud of her ability to bring out the best in all students!

James Steel Posted 4 months ago

As a former colleague of Ms. Jane Holper, I wholeheartedly support her nomination for Life Changer of the Year. In my years working with Jane, she exemplified professionalism, dedication to her students, and teaching excellence. What I think is most amazing about her is that she did all this while always remaining upbeat and positive. Teachers like Jane make a real and lasting impact on students and a school community.

Tracy Bafia Posted 4 months ago

Jane you continue to amaze me in the way you work with kids and families. The positive impact you have on student lives is contagious! Congrats on the nomination and best of luck!

Andrea Rey Posted 4 months ago

Jane is everything a parent of a life skills special education student would ever want in a teacher and more! She goes above and beyond to impact her students daily, partners with families to work toward student success, and is respected by her peers and administrators. Best of all is that she does all of this with a smile! When she was congratulated for this nomination, she humbly, selflessly stated, "This will only make me work even harder!" That's Jane!

Elizabeth Winter Posted 4 months ago

In my entire career, I have never encountered another individual who embodies the ideals of an educator to the extent that Jane does. To say it was a pleasure working with Jane for seven years would be an understatement. She inspired and shaped my philosophy on teaching and the work I do every day. Over the years she was an inclusion teacher in my junior English classes, and we co-advised sophomore, junior, and senior girls together for five years. In those roles, her support, collaboration, and guidance were essential to the success of our students. I admire the commitment and compassion she brings to her job every day. As a teacher, Jane is flawless. She possesses astounding mastery of all her content areas and makes information readily accessible to all students. Jane always finds ways to present new ideas in a clear and creative manner. From The Crucible to The Awakening, she enabled our students to relate to the characters and analyze the themes of canonical literature. Furthermore, she treated our students with the utmost respect. Jane recognized and celebrated the strengths of her students in order to improve their confidence. When a student was struggling, Jane put in extra time to ensure their success; she never let a student fall behind. With consideration to IEPs, 504 plans, and individualized observations, Jane took every necessary step to help our students meet their goals. I am inspired by Jane’s knowledge of content and compassion for students, but it is her unwavering patience that has truly amazed me. In seven years, I never saw Jane give up on a task, or more importantly, a student. Jane routinely worked with the most challenging students in our school – socially, academically, and behaviorally – and she did so with incredible grace and patience. Jane gives every student her best effort. As previously mentioned, I had the pleasure of co-advising sophomore, junior, and senior girls with Jane over the course of five years. In advisory (a non-academic class devoted to college preparatory work and character development) we checked grades, tracked service hours, applied to colleges, searched for scholarships, and helped the girls develop a sense of self and a sense of community within our home room. Jane’s devotion to the girls and her exceptional organizational skills made this all possible. She formed lasting relationships with every advisee and kept careful records of all their accomplishments as she walked them through their years at NTA. Jane’s professionalism extends beyond the classroom and advisory: Jane is truly a selfless employee. She always assisted her co-teachers with grading, modifying tests, creating assignments, and so much more. Jane took it upon herself to organize service trips, lead our student ambassadors, assist on the discipline committee, and mentor new teachers. Jane’s commitment to our school went far beyond what is written in a contract. From administrators to students, the relationships that Jane formed at Northtown Academy are evidence enough of her exceptional contributions. Her kindness and devotion have shaped the lives of so many students, teachers, and families. I can’t imagine a teacher more deserving of this award.

Jim Klise Posted 4 months ago

This nomination is so well deserved! Jane's work as a teacher truly changes lives. Jane is in the very top tier of colleagues I've known after 20 years working in education. Her sincere dedication, positive attitude, hard work, endless creativity, and her care for the students are all remarkable. Also worth noting: Jane is the person we all want to find sitting at the faculty lunch table. She makes every work day more fun!

Meg Crum Posted 4 months ago

I cannot begin to express how very deserving Jane is for this award. As her sister, I have watched her dedicate her entire professional career with love and joy to students with special needs and their families. She is their teacher, their advocate, and their support system. She works tirelessly to individualize the education of each one of her students and to ensure they have the best educational experience possible in her classroom. She keeps herself updated on all new educational opportunities, laws, and programs that will benefit her students. Above all, she truly loves her students and it shows. Jane never waivers in her dedication to her students and never lets challenging work situations veer her from her passion. Jane has helped me immeasurably over the years advocate for my own daughter, her niece, who has special needs and Jane has always been one of my daughter's greatest supporters, cheerleaders, and advocates. With Jane's help, I chose to become a school social worker and I now know even more how lucky Jane's school, her students, and her teachers are to have her. Jane is a true life changer and a gift to the Special Education community. Way to go, Jane!!

Debb and Glenn Schirmer Posted 4 months ago

Congratulations Jane! We are so proud of you. This nomination is well deserved. You have touched so many young lives as an educator for Special Need Students. Your knowledge, passion,encouragement , and TLC have always been felt by your students and they will never forget how you have made them feel!

Timothy Holper Posted 4 months ago

It is a rare thing in this life to find someone with such a unique combination of qualities that are so ideally suited to her work. Passion, dedication, intelligence, and love. Love for her work and love for her students. Coupled with a sense of humor that transcends and sustains her through some challenging days, her resolve to making a genuine difference in the lives of her students is inspiring. I am always proud to tell people about my sister's work and never surprised when she is recognized for it. Congratulations, Jane. We love you.

Mary Holper Posted 4 months ago

I am so proud that Jane has been nominated to receive this award. Ours is a family of educators, and we would all agree that Jane is one of the most hard-working and passionate teachers we know. Although she has, for several years, educated students with some of the most challenging social and emotional needs, I have never heard Jane speak an unkind word against a student. She believes in the amazing potential of every child and expects each of her colleagues and every educational system to do the same. Although her work can be demoralizing, she brings to it both humor and hope, which I can only imagine inspires each of her colleagues to be a better teacher to their students. Congratulations on this nomination, Jane!

Sarah Perros Posted 4 months ago

I know that Jane is the absolute best teacher out there because I have seen her in practice in our house growing up, in her raising her two incredible daughters, as well as in her brilliantly creative and focused teaching practices that she has used since she began teaching. Jane is the kind of teacher that we should all hope to be both in our lives at home as well as in our lives in the classroom. She is a beautiful life changer who will continue to impact each and every lucky student who will have her as a teacher!!!

Christine Baird Posted 4 months ago

I was very excited to see that Jane was nominated for this award. She has greatly impacted the special education department here at Maine West. I do not work with her directly but see her everyday. She always is working on something to enrich and support her students. The time she puts in to find new ways to keep the students engaged in the lessons is fantastic. Her after school activities have really made the students feel like they are a part of the student body here at Maine West. Her regular schedule of taking the students into the community to experience different activities is so much fun for her students. I hope we will have Jane here for many years to come.

Nicole Rodriguez Posted 4 months ago

Jane is an exceptional teacher who cares deeply for her students. She demonstrates patience, sincerity, and respect in every interaction with her students. She is a constant positive presence, and it is evident that she loves her work. She consistently goes above and beyond to provide her students with meaningful opportunities in and out of the classroom. Her dedication is inspiring!