Q & A

Where did you grow up? I was born in Corvallis, Oregon. My family moved to the area when I was about 2 years old.

 What schools did you attend? I attended Kelso schools and graduated from Kelso High School, class of 2008.

Ms. Niemi, CVG 1st grade teacher

Where did you go to college? After high school, I enrolled at Lower Columbia College (LCC) and earned an Associate of Arts degree, then transferred to Central Washington University (CWU).

Why did you choose Central Washington University? I visited the campus and really liked the feel. Central has smaller classrooms and a personalized experience.

What did you study? I focused on Elementary Education; my minor was English as a Second Language.

Did you ever study abroad?  Yes, one of my professors set up a trip to Honduras.

What was Honduras like? The Honduran culture is completely different from ours. My light skin and blonde hair stood out like a sore thumb.

What did you think of the Honduran people? The people were very nice, very welcoming.  We worked with kids K-12 helping them learn to speak English. I had a lot of fun – it was a blast.

How long were you in Honduras? The trip lasted three weeks and was one of my favorite things I did at CWU.

Why did you choose a degree in elementary education? I liked working with young kids, the elementary age group fits well with my personality.

What do you like about being a teacher? The growth and excitement kids show when they learn. The confidence students build during the year and the “lightbulb moments” are definitely the best.

What do you do in your off time? Stay active, work out, and go on hikes. I like to try different recipes and bake. I love to read too.

What do you bake? At Christmas time I always do “treat plates” for family and friends. I will make different kinds of cookies, sweet treats, Chex mix and fudge.

What are some of your favorite dinners to cook? Lately, I’ve been loving chicken stir-fry – lots of protein and veggies. On occasion, I enjoy a good cheeseburger or pizza.

Where are some of your favorite hiking spots? One of my favorite hikes is Angels Rest in the Columbia Gorge. The hike is steep, but the view at the top is beautiful.

Do you have any hikes planned? Yes, I want to hike the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. It is a 7.8-mile hike with ten different waterfalls to see along the way.

How often do you exercise? I work out 4 to 5 times per week doing the beach body workout.

What else do you do outside of teaching? I spend time with friends and family – go to movies. I like comedy and action adventure movies the best. Jurassic Park, Rocky and Die Hard are good movies.

What are some traits of great teachers? Being dedicated and having strong connections with the kids. It is important to continue to grow as a teacher, ask for help from other teachers or a specialist to figure out how to be better.

Why is building connections with kids so important? Connections help create a safe environment. If students don’t feel safe, they aren’t in a position to learn. Kids must be able ask for help and know it’s okay to make a mistake.

What sort of learning mindset does this foster? We want a growth mindset. Getting away from “I can’t do this,” to “I can’t do this – yet.”

How long have you been teaching? For 6 years.

What advice would you give a brand new teacher? Do your best and focus on building connections with the kids. Students need to know you support them. So many of the kids have difficult home lives, so it’s important to build relationships.

Do difficult home situations influence teaching? Yes, students have trouble focusing. We teach conscious discipline and composure, assertiveness and encouragement. We are teaching kids to manage their own emotions and positively affect the emotions of others.

Has the social-emotional approach been effective? Absolutely. One of my students who has a hard time regulating emotion goes to the safe space in the room when he starts to lose his composure, instead of interrupting class or throwing things across the room. Managing emotions well leads to more problem solving and less “tattling”, which means less class disruption and fewer behavior referrals.

What do you like most about your classroom? Having the other two first grade teachers on each side of my room. If I need help, they are close by.

Do the three CVG first grade teachers work together? All the time. We plan lessons, talk about what is working, track data, set goals – we’re always talking to each other. I love the team here.

Do you like being a teacher? I love it. Teaching is a challenge. The light bulb moments are great.

How are you improving as a teacher? Last year I completed the National Boards and just certified. This year I’m working towards my Master’s degree in reading with an emphasis on elementary education.

Do you enjoy teaching kids to read? Over the last several year’s teaching reading has become a passion of mine.

What piqued your interest in reading and writing? Over the last few years working to obtain National Board Certification, and working with other great teachers and reading specialists, I’ve learned how the brain learns to read.

What are some of the challenges to learning how to read? The process the brain goes through to learn how to read is interesting. Your brain is not actually wired to learn how to read. Humans focus on verbal communication, to read we associate letters and shapes to sounds.

Do your students read much in class? In my classroom students read quite a bit. We play books on tape during lunchtime; I will read to them at times. Students have all sorts of literacy opportunities throughout each day.

Do students start writing in first grade? Yes, we write daily. One of our ‘stations’ is a writing station, so my expectation is for them to write two or more sentences at the station.

What are the kids of today like? Kids of today are wonderful. They have more challenging lives than most people think. When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember having so many kids who struggled with emotions and tough home lives – it’s different now. It is the biggest challenge to teaching.

Is the outlook for the future positive? I think so; there are many great kids out there.

Tell us about the National Board certification process? It was a very tough and rigorous process. You have to reflect on the choices you’re making in class and why you are making them, then decide if or how you could be more effective. The process is very reflective, it makes you focus on best practices and why you are using them.

What example does your continuing education set for the kids? It shows the kids you should never stop learning.

Do students work on the computer during class? Yes, I have had to do very little training on how to use the Chromebooks, the kids just learn computer skills very fast. Kids have grown up with technology – it’s what they know.

Are you a sports fan? I like the Seahawks. My boyfriend is a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter.

What do you think of MMA? MMA is a completely different world, but it’s his passion. My boyfriend coaches, trains and fights. Overall, I like it.

Have you gone to any MMA fights? Yes, I’ve been to four of his fights. The fights are fun and I’ve met a lot of new people.

What it’s like being a teacher? Teaching is a huge challenge, but comes with a huge reward. The kids soak up the information like a sponge. When the kids learn things and get in the growth mindset, teaching is wonderful.