Raised by a teacher, he’s taking on the family business

Jacob Probst
Degree: BS Exceptional Education, School of Education
Hometown: Watertown, Wis.
It’s a Fact: He accidentally destroyed his parent’s kitchen while making decorations for a high-school graduation party. It’s an experience he sometimes uses when talking to students about the consequences of bad decisions.

It’s a big change from instructing soldiers heading to Iraq and Afghanistan how to handle their weapons to teaching middle-school students to unravel the complexities of algebra, but the learning principles are similar. Jacob Probst, who’s graduating with his bachelor’s degree and certification in exceptional education, says his experiences as an army instructor and his School of Education courses have both helped develop his teaching skills.

Probst, 26, served four years in the Army. That includes one year in Iraq looking for bombs before coming to UWM to earn his education degree. He is still active in the reserves as a combat engineer/senior small arms instructor.

Choosing special education as a career grew out of the same values that led him to enlist in the army. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunity, and felt a need to contribute and make a difference.”

Probst is from a family of teachers. His wife, Kirsten, is an early childhood special education teacher in West Allis, and his mother, mother-in-law and sister are also special education teachers.

“I’ve always been around teachers; it’s just something I was naturally drawn to.”

Probst brings special empathy to his teaching because of his own experiences. “I had some struggles in middle school and high school, but I always had someone to mentor me through all that. Special education is challenging, but I really like the transition part, getting kids ready for life after high school.”

He’s developed his own learning techniques to overcome areas where he felt his skills fell short – public speaking and rifle marksmanship. He’s now comfortable in front of a classroom and first place for expert in the Wisconsin State Service Rifle Championships.

“So when students are struggling, or don’t understand how they’ll ever use some knowledge in ‘real life,’ I can help them figure out a way to learn,” says Probst.

He’s enjoyed his years at UWM. Faculty members and his student teaching supervisor have continually encouraged him to challenge himself. “It can be difficult, but I can see how it’s preparing me to be an exceptional teacher.” He also appreciates the opportunities to take some fascinating courses outside his major like Native American studies, winter survival, scuba diving and negotiation.

Probst has found the presence of other veterans at UWM, and the campus veteran’s center and organizations a bonus. “As an older student and a veteran you’ve had different experiences than the 18- and 19-year-olds in your class. Sometimes it’s nice to just have coffee and talk with another veteran.”

He completes his student teaching next month, and is already interviewing for special education jobs. He has new incentive, too. He and Kirsten recently found out they’re expecting a baby, so this fall he’ll be starting another career as a dad.