ing through interaction with current events and real civic engagement. Last year, for example, students worked to pass a 911 Good Samaritan Bill in Missouri legislature. “I’ve never had an experience like it. I’ve never had a teacher so involved in both local and national, to a certain degree, politics. She was someone who was bringing it closer to home and getting us involved in the classroom to push for statewide notions and statewide laws. It’s very cool,” senior Rahul Kirkhope, a member of Wiens’ AP Government class, said. Wiens’ enthusiasm for history draws back to her childhood when she would spend hours pouring over national geographic, reading biographies and dreaming about seeing the world beyond her Iowa farm. The interest in politics followed, arising her senior year in high school. Lacking a strong government teacher, Wiens took it upon herself to learn the subject matter and was enthralled by the world she found within the government textbook. Wiens also found a calling to the world of social policy due to a desire to help the less fortunate, a desire that grew from empathy: farm life in Iowa was grueling and Wiens’ family was constantly apprehensive of losing their farms. “We did end up losing all of our farms except for one and I remember the banker coming out and taking them. I remember selling everything that we owned and didn’t absolutely need. We sold all the machinery, we sold all our animals, we sold everything to keep the farm that we stayed at. I remember the grief that caused. I remember very, very difficult times on the farm and my father would say, ‘if we just work harder, we can make a go of it.’ I knew farm life was not for me but I think that drove who I am today because I empathize with people that don’t have,” Wiens said. “When I look at people around me, I think something can be done to help. To get people through until they can get on their feet again.” Wiens’ father was able to get back on his feet again, and earned enough money to send Wiens to college. Wiens matriculated to Wheaton College in Chicago to pursue a degree in history, along with a teaching certificate. Wiens spent her time at Wheaton with the international crowd, marveling at what cultures existed beyond rural Iowa. Her freshman year roommate was from Taiwan. Her best friend was from the Netherlands and spoke seven languages. College was Wiens’ ticket away from the farm and into the world she yearned to explore. College also introduced Wiens to a budding geophysicist. The pair got married soon after graduation and Wiens’ husband went on to pursue a PhD at Northwestern. Wiens, on the other hand, was set on teaching. However, finding a teaching job in Chicago was impossible during those years. Wiens was living in the inner city of Chicago, amongst prostitutes, the homeless and Southeast Asian refugees. So, at just 21 years old, she and two other women started a school for this impoverished community. Wiens was in charge of teaching all subjects -- from art to math to drama -- to 6th through 8th graders, all while writing the curriculum and raising funds herself. “[The Chicago school experience] was both tremendously rewarding, it was exhilarating but it was also exhausting, it was terrifying, it was overwhelming. It was the height and the depth of teaching,” Wiens said. However, a new journey was calling and Wiens would be leaving Chicago. Her husband had finished his PhD and jobs in geophysics were scarce.
There was an opening on the border of Mexico and in Saskatchewan, Canada, but Wiens’ heart found no connection to these places. The final opening was at Washington University in St. Louis. Wiens was adamant that her husband could not accept a job if no teaching jobs existed for her. At the time, St. Louis had a surplus of teachers and no jobs. But, all of a sudden, one opening was posted. Wiens was chosen out of 400 applicants and thus, her career at the Clayton School District began in the social studies department of Wydown. Early into her career at Wydown, administrators told her, “we have a plan for your life.” If Wiens accepted their proposition, she was to go receive her PhD -- paid for by the District -- and then serve as an administrator for at least seven years. Wiens was ecstatic; however, she and her husband also had decided to start a family -- she was pregnant with her first child. Wanting time with her newborn, Wiens told the superintendent she would not be able to do the PhD program and asked for one year unpaid leave. The superintendent’s response surprised her. “He said I’ll hold [your job] for three [years]. This is a quote: ‘hurry up and have your two babies and get back here,’” Wiens said. Wiens accepted the offer and had her two kids, Andrew and Julia, during that time. After the three years had passed, Wiens wanted just one more, but the District did not agree and gave her position away. Nevertheless, Wiens’ lack of employment did not last for long. One year later, the District called and asked what it would take to have her return. Wiens requested part-time at the high school and it was done. Later, when a fulltime position opened, she took the spot. “I am loyal to this district forever. That’s what treating employees like that does -- it builds this forever relationship,” Wiens said. Wiens’ long teaching career, spanning more than 30 years, did not pass without questioning, however. Wiens wondered
Globe Newsmagazine, May 2018, Issue 8, Vol. 89