Saturday, September 10, 2016

Owl About the Teacher

Image Source: Personal Collection

Every day is a winding road...

Hi, I am Diana Neilson! I live in River Forest, Illinois which is 13 miles outside of Chicago. I was born and raised in Downers Grove and have lived downtown, in Oak Park and now reside in River Forest.

I have a long and winding road to to where I am now. I went to college to become a graphic designer. I graduated during a recession and the only position I could find was in marketing.  I loved it! I spent 10 years planning and executing marketing plans for the banking and bookstore industries. My positions exposed me to media, internet, and print buying.  I ran a team of account representatives, media buyers and creatives.  We were on the cutting edge of the internet era, and my company was launching its first web store.  Hard to believe I am that old!  

Life, as I knew it, quickly changed when I found out I was expecting twins.  This was fabulous news for my husband and me, but really put a cramp in my ability to travel to see my clients. I ended up making the decision to resign my position, four months after the twins were born, to be a full-time mom.

Image Source: Personal
I spent the next 11 years at home with them.  They were the best and luckiest years of my life. We had a blast going to the zoo, park, museums, music class, and playdates. They grew up with a community of twin friends and remain close to those families still to this day.  

During my time at home, I was a freelance graphic designer for many local businesses and obtained my real estate license.  My husband and I also rehab homes in the area and having my license allows me to buy and sell properties without paying major commissions to brokers.  To date, we are still purchasing, repairing, and selling whenever possible.

When my children entered elementary school, I started volunteering in the school and eventually became a substitute teacher in District 90.  I enjoyed my time so much in the classroom, I decided to return to school to earn my Master of Arts in Teaching from Concordia University. I graduated from the program in May of 2011.

Image Source & Link to Website
That August, I became a permanent substitute in kindergarten at Hatch Elementary in Oak Park.  I worked in a classroom for a teacher who was undergoing chemotherapy. She would teach Monday through Wednesday and I would cover for her Thursday through the following Wednesday.  We repeated this pattern until her treatments were completed in December.  After that opportunity, I was asked to stay for another long term maternity substitute position in second grade.  Hatch was my new home away from and I was so excited to be there. The following fall, I had another opportunity to teach first grade at Hatch. I was so appreciative of the opportunities I had there and the wonderful staff and community that supports Hatch school and their teachers.

Image Source: Personal
In the Spring of 2013, I had to leave my first grade position, because I was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed time to undergo surgery and treatments.  I spent a year trying to get back to my old self.  My goal was to be able to walk in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in June of 2014.  I made my goal to walk 39.3 miles with a team of nine friends. We celebrated our achievement and my recovery together.

Image Source: District 90
In the summer of 2014, I had the chance to interview at Lincoln School in River Forest, the school where my children attended and where I spent several years as a substitute teacher. I was offered the first grade position, and this year I am starting my third year at Lincoln.  In 2015, we won the National Blue Ribbon Award, it was a special time at Lincoln and I am so proud to be a part of an amazing school with exceptional educators. 
Image Source: Personal

"Owl Be First" will be my first blog outside my website.  If you have seen my classroom you would know it is owl themed. In first grade we like to be wise and ask a lot of "who" questions.  The owl is a cute and happy symbol that all my first graders enjoy.

So, the winding road continues as I advance my knowledge of technology with the help of my teenagers keeping me up on all the latest apps and advances.  Over the next couple of years, I hope to continue to take courses in technology and work toward a specialist degree.

Over the next couple of years, I look forward to seeing where the road will take me.


  1. What a wonderful life story! I love the fact that our paths are crossing again!

  2. So impressed that you completed the Avon walk! You are a hero to many!

  3. Love see the picture of the kids!!

  4. Gorgeous layout and even better story, Diana. I am so happy that I have the chance to work with you!

  5. Ah...twins can throw a monkey wrench into life, can't they?! Like you, I know the joys (and early on tears) of having two at one time! We sure are blessed. Thank you for telling your story with passion and transparency. You are a great example for your kids that life doesn't occur in a straight line but we can persevere. By the way.....are you and your husband available for hire for house projects :)