Linda Rinaldi: ‘shining through’

Retired special needs teacher grateful for opportunity to care
Friday, November 30, 2018

Linda Rinaldi, right, and her grandson, Joseph, stand in her backyard Thursday afternoon. Rinaldi, a retired special education teacher, has learned much from children with special needs, such as Joey. Practicing patience, she said, is perhaps the most important lesson.

Photo by Charlie Denison

For 25 years, Linda Rinaldi worked in the special education department at Fergus High School.

“I enjoyed every single day that I worked,” she said. “It was challenging, but very rewarding. Over the years it was fun to see the children come in as freshmen, go out as seniors and actually be successful. It was wonderful to see them go on to their next chapter, whether it was a trade, a two-year school or a four-year school.”

Last year, she retired, which Rinaldi said is bittersweet, but the time has come to stay at home, where she can take care of her special needs grandson, Joseph, and her 90-year-old mother, who also lives with Rinaldi and her husband.

“I’m doing a lot of care giving,” Rinaldi said, “so I stay pretty busy, but I very much enjoy having this time with my family.”

Seeing Joseph, a junior, get educated at FHS, has given Rinaldi a new perspective, as she is around him after school and can see the progress in a different light. It’s helped her see the impact of what she did day in and day out.

“When he learns something new, it stands out,” she said, “and it’s wonderful to see.”

No matter how many students Rinaldi has worked with, there is always something to learn from one individual to the next. Every person is different, she said, so it’s hard for Rinaldi to give advice, but she can say that those with special needs are more perceptive than people often realize. 

“There are times you don’t think the individual with special needs might understand you, but they do,” she said.

Rinaldi can say, however, those working with special needs must have patience and must stay calm.

“Once you are patient with them, they can relax, and communication can develop,” Rinaldi said.

Patience is perhaps the most important virtue when it comes to working with special needs, Rinaldi said, just like love.

 “I think most people who work with those with special needs have a love for them, and that love just keeps shining through,” she said.


At home in Central Montana

Originally from Bristol, Connecticut, Rinaldi said she feels fortunate she moved out to Montana with her husband in the late 1980s. Her three sons also enjoyed growing up in the area – two of them now live in Billings and the other is in Boston, where he’s in the Coast Guard.

Rinaldi got involved in the community right from the get-go.

“When the kids were in school, they were into the wrestling club, so my husband and I got involved in that,” Rinaldi said. “I was also the manager of the Lewistown pool for a while when my sons were involved in the Sea Lion swim team. I also helped coach tennis for eight years.”

Making the transition from New England to Montana wasn’t a hard one. Thanks to the people of Lewistown, Rinaldi said she’s always felt at home here.

“Whether swim team, wrestling or school, the people here have been very friendly,” she said, “and the friendships we’ve made are for life.”

This is one of the main reasons Rinaldi has stayed in the area and pursued a career as a special education teacher, embarking on a new career at 48. After two years of night classes at the University of Great Falls, Rinaldi received her special education endorsement. By 2000 – after seven years as a special education teacher’s aid, she became an official special ed teacher. She got to work right away, putting together a curriculum for the resource classes, getting all the behind-the-scenes paperwork done and working closely with the students, often individually, one at a time.

“I wanted to figure out what would be good for each child,” she said. “I wanted to make them feel like they mattered. I used to like to sit and listen to some of their struggles before I’d recommend anything. I wanted to know where they were coming from, what they felt like and, then, just kind of give them little suggestions, little pointers. I think – if everybody would just step back and kind of listen to where the struggles are – it would give everybody the opportunity to get that extra help…they are just the same as anyone else; they just need extra attention.”

On many occasions Rinaldi said she’s seen this philosophy help bring along positive change.

“I’ve heard so many children say ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not going to be able to do that.’ Once they are able to see that they can do the math or write the English and put that to use outside of school – that’s when it’s most rewarding for me,” she said.

Rinaldi, said she sees her students putting these lessons into practice on a regular basis, and it means the world to her.

“Seeing my students working as part of the community and just loving it really brings me a lot of joy,” she said. “To see them believe in themselves, enjoy what they do and enjoy life…that brings me joy.”

Rinaldi said she misses working with the kids every day, but she knows it was time to retire, as she saw others coming in with the same passion. 

“I saw teachers coming in that had the same kind of love for the students that I did, and I felt comfortable turning the reins over,” she said. “Plus I have my Joseph at home.”



What advice would you give to a high school graduate?