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Joan Hardie has been helping PR-B students with speech and socializing for 17 years. She retired at the end of the 2014 school year. Photo by Travis Grimler

Hardie came to PR-B to find her passion

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Joan Hardie has been teaching speech and language for a combined 24 years, but she said her 17 years at Pine River-Backus (PR-B) Schools has been more fulfilling than the years before.

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Hardie is a straight shooter. She pulls no punches when she tells you that she left her Lancaster, Wisconsin, home because of a severe lack of suitors.

"I loved it down there, but seriously, there were no men down there in that little town. I thought, 'Where am I going to find some young available bachelors?' So I went to the Cities," Hardie said.

Hardie also does not hesitate to express her dislike for her early career. She had combined her love of drama and love of nursing into a degree in speech pathology from River Falls, Wisconsin, followed by two years of teaching. Hardie didn't like her first two years teaching, so following her sojourn to the Twin Cities for a suitor, she tried her hand at insurance.

"I went into insurance and I remember taking an insurance class and I absolutely hated it," Hardie said.

Though she didn't find a new career, Hardie did meet Mr. Right. He was a banker with a family farm. When they got married 34 years ago, Hardie thought she might get the chance to try her hand at an old-fashioned lifestyle.

"I thought I'd be a farmer's wife," Hardie said.

Little did she know, she was going to be returning to teaching speech and language at Wahpeton, North Dakota.

"He got me a job right before our honeymoon," Hardie said. " I didn't even interview."

Hardie labored through two years in Wahpeton, though she still did not enjoy her job. When her family began growing, she took time off to raise children. She was absent from her field of study for 10 years before her youngest of three children turned 4 and she became a part-time teacher in Royalton.

"I went back three mornings a week. Before that started I cried my eyes out. I thought, 'I can't do this' because I was out of it for 10 years. I went back and that was the beginning of what I'm doing today," Hardie said.

After three years, Hardie started teaching speech and language for PR-B, Pillager and Pequot Lakes schools. Hardie was then hired exclusively by PR-B 17 years ago and something began to change.

"There was a transformation upon coming to Pine River. I went from really disliking this field to absolutely loving it. It's been the best thing for me," Hardie said. "I started out taking workshops. I felt insecure like I wasn't as good as anybody else, and I started taking workshops every year. Also, I just started to ask God, 'Show me the way in this field. I've got the degree, just give me a love for it.' I ended up absolutely in love with it ."

Hardie said part of the transformation came from the confidence and experience she earned through PR-B's professional development programs. For so long she felt like she was under qualified and inexperienced. Workshops helped her earn the experience and education she thought she was lacking, and in turn to use that experience to help her students become more confident and better at communicating. She even discovered that she truly enjoyed teaching social skills for students with autism.

"Fortunately, Pine River-Backus has been very gracious in letting us go to workshops. I must have taken at least 15 workshops and classes on autism. It has turned me into a lover of autism. It sort of just transformed me," Hardie said.

Hardie's position at PR-B meant it was possible for her to work with individual students for nine years if they needed the help, though she taught most students for three or four years. This, combined with small class sizes, meant Hardie has always had close relationships with her students. That position came to an end with the 2014 school year when she officially retired.

"It's very hard (to leave). I plan to do some part-time work in the field. It is difficult, especially the autism piece," Hardie said.

Hardie and her husband plan to remain in the area, though she hopes to travel to Mozambique and Jordan eventually.

As she is leaving, Hardie also encourages people to join the speech language pathology field, which she said is always in high need of teachers.

"I would encourage some young people in college to go into this field even though it's a six-year. We are so short on speech pathologists. If you love kids of any age, go into it. We really do need people in this field to keep giving it the professionalism it deserves," Hardie said.

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