From Student to Teacher, Wesslund Stays Loyal to Ralston

By 
Derek Noehren
The Daily Record

Despite it running in the family, Dakota Wesslund did not think teaching was for her.

Talk about coming full circle.

The first year, first-grade teacher at Mockingbird Elementary grew up with a teaching pedigree, with teachers throughout her family tree including parents and grandparents. But she thought she would chart a different path.

“It’s kind of a funny story. I actually did not want to teach at all,” she said.

That all changed when she began working for Ralston’s daycare program in high school and through college at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The experience made her realize her true calling.

“That’s when I realized, OK, I’m supposed to work with kids,” she said. “They make my day so much better. Just being around them and their energy brings out my energy.”

Her energy hasn’t gone unnoticed either.

While working as the lead teacher for the Lil’ & Tiny Rams – Ralston’s school-aged childcare program – she was honored in April with the 2021 Heart of Learning Award for a foundational staff member from the Ralston Schools Foundation. The award celebrates staff members who go above and beyond to make an impact on their students.

Little did she know at the time, but her years working for the daycare was unofficial on-the-job training.

“Working at the daycare, I was able to build relationships with the kids and their families. Building relationships and a positive rapport with students and their families is kind of the golden rule of teaching,” Wesslund said. “I learned a lot of how to do that from working at the daycare to where it became natural over time and something I consider (one of my strengths).”

Wesslund picked up more knowledge student teaching at Meadows Elementary in Susan Morice’s preschool classroom.

“I learned a lot from Susan and have actually incorporated some of the stuff into my classroom,” Wesslund said.

There Wesslund witnessed first-hand the effectiveness of young kids learning through play, something she has implemented into her classroom.

In the mornings, Wesslund has her students partake in something active in lieu of desk work.

“In the mornings, instead of doing a worksheet I have them do activities to work on fine motor skills by working with Play-Doh, picking something up with tweezers, practice counting, building something or doing a puzzle,” Wesslund said. “It gives them time to do something that is educational, while also giving them time to build relationships with each other.”

Still all that time and experience couldn’t prepare her for how surreal it would be to literally go from pupil to teacher in the same buildings she attended class as a kid.

“It was very odd at first because it just doesn’t feel real. I still feel like, ‘wait, am I supposed to be here right now?’” she said.

Adding to that was seeing people in the halls that were teachers when she was in school that are now her collogues. Support from her fellow teachers has helped make Wesslund feel more acclimated.

“It feels odd, but also really nice and heartwarming to have all of that support come back to me. There are still teachers that care about me and where I’ve grown from,” Wesslund said.

In her first few days in class, Wesslund has tried to establish a comfortable, upbeat and active learning environment, while being creative given the precautions due to the pandemic. When asked of her interests outside of school, Wesslund gave a fitting answer for a first-year teacher after the first few days of class.

“I love to take naps,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t realize how tired I’d be every day. Even student teaching doesn’t compare.”

Despite a little sleep deprivation, Wesslund is content with her choice of professional and school district.

“It’s home,” she said. “I know that’s really basic to say, but I grew up here, I went to school here, I was very involved and I’ve never left or had a desire to go anywhere else. The way the community is built is very close-knit and I like that small-town feeling.”

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