Coach, special education teacher, WTCS ambassador – the multi-faceted woman



Nikki Retelle-Harden

Hailey Griffin, Arts Editor

You get home from a long day at work. Basketball practice isn’t until tomorrow, so you don’t have to worry about heading to the gymnasium later. You feed your sons and make sure they’re taken care of before you hunker down for a long night of homework. Such is a day in the life of Nikki Retelle-Harden.

As a full-time mom, a student, a special education teacher, a part-time golf course employee, a Wisconsin Technical College System, known as WTCS, ambassador and a basketball coach, free time is a rarity for Retelle-Harden. However, that is the sacrifice that she is willing to make to do what she loves while receiving a college education.

Retelle-Harden’s multi-faceted lifestyle began in the neighborhood of Wexford Ridge on the west side of Madison, Wisconsin. Being born and raised in Madison, life was good for Retelle-Harden as a kid. Sledding, baseball games and summer trips to Seattle with her siblings are things that she remembers fondly.

“Every summer, my dad would take us to Seattle for pretty much the whole summer. I grew up with five brothers and sisters. There’s six of us, and we’d all get in the car and travel to Seattle every summer. Then, during the school year, Wexford was home,” said Retelle-Harden.

While growing up in Wexford Ridge, Retelle-Harden discovered her love for basketball. Playing in her youth, her high school years and on the Madison School and Community Recreation basketball team as an adult, Retelle-Harden’s strive to play has never waned. This strive is what got her into coaching.

It all started at one of her son’s basketball games when the coach invited her to assist him after hearing her advice from the sidelines. Her position as a coach took off from there — over the years, Retelle-Harden went from coaching a third grade boys’ team to coaching an eighth grade girls’ team.

When her sister suggested that she go to her eighth grade niece’s practice and help them out, she knew she had to step up to the plate. “I…brought all the girls in and said, ‘Hey, guess what? I’m your new coach. I’m coach Nikki,’” said Retelle-Harden.

Of course, coaching is just one of the many things that Retelle-Harden spends her time doing. During the day, she is a special education teacher at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Middleton, Wisconsin. Before working at Sunset Ridge, Retelle-Harden worked at a daycare.

After working in a daycare for several years, Retelle-Harden knew that she had a passion for working with kids. Not only that, but she knew she had a dual passion for being a special education teacher — a passion fueled by personal experience.

“My youngest sister was born with down syndrome, and that just stayed in a special place in my heart. So I knew I wanted to get into special education. And so, when my director left the daycare, they offered me the position of director, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. So I applied to the school district, and here I am,” said Retelle-Harden.

Though she is passionate about her position as a special education teacher, Retelle-Harden has felt a “real push” to go back to school and attain a degree to become a classroom teacher for several reasons.

“Being African American and working in a school district that is predominantly white, I have seen a lot of things that make me realize how important being a teacher of color is, and so that’s been my real push to go back to school and to make a change,” said Retelle-Harden.

Another thing that has prompted Retelle-Harden to go back to school is her children.

“I feel like in order for me to really be that example for them, I needed to do what I’m telling them to do, and that was going back to school. So I always knew I needed to go back,” said Retelle-Harden.

Now that Retelle-Harden is back in school, she’s found that she really enjoys the flexibility and personal interaction that a smaller school like Madison College provides. As a liberal arts transfer student with an emphasis on education, Retelle-Harden strives for nothing less than absolute success when it comes to her grades. When her time to transfer comes, Retelle-Harden is leaning towards going to University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Despite a large schoolwork load and a jam-packed schedule, Retelle-Harden does find time now and then to have fun. She plays basketball and reads thriller novels, and every summer, she takes road trips with her sons, just as her dad did with her.