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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 22 2013

One of life’s derailments helped first-year teacher Cindy Wieland find her passion

FARGO – In the early 1990s, Cindy Wieland had her sights set on being an accountant.

But a professor at the University of North Dakota thought maybe she was a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.

“Cindy, you have a lot of personality, are you sure accounting is the career for you?” Wieland said her professor asked.

“Most accountants are a little boring, and she thought I had a little bit much extrovert in me,” Wieland said, chuckling.

Turns out the professor was right.

Thursday, the 42-year-old brought every bit of her personality to bear, corralling 19 first-graders and starting them on learning before the bell on the opening day of school at Fargo’s Bennett Elementary School.

The former US Bank accountant had the children drawing, writing about how they felt, and learning to use the classroom’s smart board by choosing their lunches before the day’s announcements.

“All of your books and notebooks can go in the top bunk, and all of your other stuff can go in the bottom bunk” of the desk, Wieland told Addisyn Tjaden before setting her to work drawing.

“Hunter, did you make your lunch choice? Come on up sweetie,” she called to another student.

“Alexandra has already written how she feels this morning. Nice job, Alexandra!” Wieland said, moving on to praise other children, while teaching yet another how to sharpen her pencils.

Thursday wasn’t Wieland’s first time in front of a classroom.

But it is her first full-year contract as a teacher.

After graduating last December from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a teaching degree, Wieland snared a five-month contract as a substitute kindergarten teacher at Bennett. It was a gig she says made the start of this year much easier.

It was one of life’s derailments that put Wieland on the track to teaching.

She graduated from UND in 1993, and had worked about a decade at US Bank when the bank was purchased by another corporation. She ended up being laid off in a corporate restructuring.

She and her husband decided she should stay at home and care for their 2-year-old daughter and newborn son.

Then her church, Atonement Lutheran in south Fargo, called and asked her to do the books.

That led to her taking on work with the children’s ministry, which she eventually took over in 2007.

“The time commitment was a little overwhelming for me, but the part I en-joyed the most was teaching the kids,” she said.

In 2010, she was trying to decide what she wanted to do with her last 20 years of time in the working world. She wanted something to engage her passions, she said.

On advice from friends, she went back to school. By then, she had three children.

While getting her education degree, she worked as a tutor and supervised on a school playground.

She said the kindergarten job at Bennett after she graduated validated her decision.

“Just teaching them something every day was very fulfilling. Just seeing the light bulbs go off inside their heads when they got something … was really a rewarding thing to see,” Wieland said.

Thursday morning, she ran her first-graders through the cues she’ll use to get their attention and be quiet.

She told them where the bathrooms are and about school safety, then laid out their schedule for the day.

Of course, after that it was time to dance and get to know each other.

“We’re going to pretend like we’re in a big bowl and we’re going to mix it up” to meet each other, she said.

By the end of the day, all of the first-graders lined up and followed her through the press of the end-of-the day crowd at the school’s entrance.

“Like a mother hen, you want to keep all the chicks next to you,” she said.

Wieland said her life’s experiences came together to give her a good start as a teacher.

“I wouldn’t have been a good teacher when I was 21 or 22,” she said, reflecting on the person she was when she was younger. “I think being a mom has made me a better person and a better teacher.”

She said she sees education from three perspectives now: as a parent, as a paraprofessional/tutor, and as a licensed teacher.

Even her business experience helps in managing a classroom, she said.

This time, she knows she’s gotten the career right.

“Even when I was spending late nights here getting the classroom ready, I never felt exhausted,” she said, adding she now feels “at peace.”

“That might sound weird, coming from all the chaos outside,” she said. “I’m always thinking, ‘I’m really excited to go to school tomorrow!’”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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