Teacher spotlight – Mrs. West, Mint Valley Elementary

Where were you born? I was born in Longview and raised in Rainier, Oregon.

Did you go to school in Rainier? Yes, I went to elementary, middle and high school in Rainier. I was in the Rainier High School class of ‘95. Go Columbians!

Do your parents still live in Rainier? Yes, my dad, brother and most of my family still live across the river.

Growing up did you like school? Yes, I did like school. I was very social and liked playing sports, and had some amazing teachers.

Can you tell us about the sports you played? I played soccer, basketball and softball. Softball was my favorite.

Mrs. West, Mint Valley Elementary

What position did you play in softball? Centerfield.

Were you a good hitter? Uh, sometimes! I would go through good and bad times.

Can you tell us about some of the amazing teachers you had in Rainier? Ms. Jensen was my all-time favorite teacher. She was my math teacher and math never really came easy for me. Ms. Jensen always had a unique way of teaching and working one on one to explain and make sure you understand. She was always just so positive.

Did Ms. Jensen have a good way with kids? Yes, she would always pull me in and say, “Hey, you did this section really well, but let us talk about this section.” She always took the time and I just loved and appreciated that from her.

Did your experience with Ms. Jensen influence your teaching? Oh, yes, I think so. Ms. Jensen was so patient, so kind and made learning fun. Before her class, I did not really enjoy math.

How did Ms. Jensen make it fun? Oh, just the way she would show different ways how to do problems and the games we would play. She would start the class with something funny, something from the newspaper or something she had read. It just drew you all in and you are like – okay, I am ready to learn now.

What made Ms. Jensen so good? She was just one of those kinds of teachers, just really down to earth and just very on your level. She was not like, “I’m your teacher, you’re going to listen to what I am going to say, I am going to crack the whip.” She wasn’t that way.

Growing up did you want to be a teacher? No, I wanted to be an airline stewardess. I wanted to travel.

Were you planning on getting married and having kids? In all honesty, I never saw myself getting married or having kids. I wanted to travel the world.

What happened? About half way through my senior year with my mom buzzing in my ear, “Are you sure you don’t want to have babies? Are you sure you don’t want to be a grandma?” I changed my mind.

After changing your mind about marriage and kids where did you plan to go to school? Western Oregon University was the place to go to school to become a teacher, so I thought I would give it a try.

Did you visit Western Oregon University? I went there with my parents and really liked it. I was pumped up and thought, “Yeah, I totally want to be a teacher,” and I stuck to it.

Did it feel good picking a pathway and following through? Yes, it was cool. Many of my friends changed their mind their freshman year.

What did you parents say about becoming a teacher? They were like Ok! Out the door you go, we got her! See you later! They sent me and I loved it.

Did you enjoy attending Western Oregon University? I really liked living in Monmouth and my college experience was good.

Is it amazing how life changes? Yes it is. It is still a big joke. When I get on an airplane, I cannot believe I wanted to be a stewardess and be on planes for hours at a time – crazy.

Does mother know best? Yes, mother knows best. She wasn’t really wasn’t crazy about me being an airline stewardess.

What did you do after college? I was a substitute teaching during the day and a cocktail waitress at night. During that time, I met my husband. I had substituted for a year, he asked me to marry him and I said – yes.

So you change your mind about getting married? Yes, I got married in 2001. We have two boys, 15 and 12 years old.

Where do your boys go to school? My oldest goes to RA Long and my youngest goes to Cascade. They are doing well.

When did you get a teaching job at Mint Valley? What happened was very special. The principal at Mint Valley, Jerry Westendorf, called and offered me a job the day before I got married. It was the best wedding present ever!

How long have you been at Mint Valley? I have been here 16 years. This is where I have taught the whole time.

What are the traits of a good teacher? Patience, flexibility, positive attitude, you have to be a happy person, put a smile on your face even when you are digging down deep.

What kind of teaching philosophy do you use? I think you need to have a strong philosophy that I want my kids to love school, to be happy here. This is a happy place; this is the place you want to come to learn. Being all of these things, being happy and positive makes a good teacher.

Have you always taught 1st grade? No, I taught kindergarten for years. I started teaching first grade, and then when I started to have my kids I worked half time. There were two sessions of kindergarten. I worked one session spent the other time at home with my kids.

When did you start working full-time again? When all-day kindergarten came along and my youngest was four, I went back to work full time. This is only my second year being back in first grade. I taught kindergarten for a long time.

Is it a big difference, kindergarten and first grade? Oh my, gosh yes. Kindergarten students are getting used to going to school all day. It is like little kittens, they always need you and they are so tired. They are hungry and it is just a long day of school for them.

How long does it take kindergartners to get used to all day school? They get to that point in November or December when they have built up their stamina and are ready to learn. You really forget about it because you are so proud of them.

Are kids ready for a full day of school in first grade? Yes, in first grade they are ready. They already had that year of kindergarten and it is not as exhausting. I love the “littles”. I love the “kinders” and first graders. Their personalities, their attitudes are so fun.

What is the best thing about being a teacher? There are so many good things about being a teacher. The best thing about being a teacher is when something finally clicks, when the lightbulb finally turns on and they see it and get it. The sense of accomplishment, that sense of oh my gosh, I did it! That is an amazing feeling as a teacher.

What else is great about being a teacher? Another great part of being a teacher is being a role model for the kids. The person they love – they come up to me and say, “I love you Mrs. West,” or, “Mrs. West you are just the best!” They write little love notes to me all the time. It’s like I am really making a difference here; they really like being at school, they like me, they like learning. It just makes me feel good.

How does it make you feel to get a note from a kid who really cares for his teacher? It makes you feel so good. I have one here that says, “I love you so much, I love that you’re my teacher. I wish that you were going to second grade and someday maybe you could go to college to be a teacher when I am at college.” It helps you get through the tough days.

Do you enjoy being a teacher? I do enjoy being a teacher.

Do you ever think you will teach anything besides the “littles”? I don’t know. That is hard to say. I had gotten to the point with kindergarten where I wanted a change. I had done it so long. I don’t know I could feel that way again. Maybe even like 2nd or 3rd grade.

Did you want to teach the younger kids when you were in college? When I was in college, I thought I wanted to be a middle school health teacher. Then I spent a week at a middle school and I thought. “Oh my gosh, no!”

What happened after your middle school experience? I thought I wanted to be an intermediate teacher. They couldn’t find an intermediate class, so they got me into a second grade class and I thought this is the right place for me. I want to be a teacher to the littles.

What is the toughest part of being a teacher? The hardest thing about being a teacher is that there is never enough time. You are always doing this or you are always doing that. Sometimes I feel like I am rushed to get everything taught and I wish I didn’t feel this way because you should just spend time enjoying what the kids are doing and learning at the moment.

Is the pressure of higher test scores difficult? The pressure of test scores is hard. You want your kids to be up where the district wants you to have them and you are just working your tail off. That gets hard and frustrating.

Do you have a positive outlook of the future? I think the future is going to be just fine. You know I think there are some definite bumps in the road for some, but there is always going to be those kids that rise to the occasion and step up.

Why is your outlook on the future positive? I think we have great kids. Even our most challenging, there are great things about those kids. I hope they are all going to be kind and happy adults.

What would you tell the public about being a teacher and working in this district? I would tell them that being a teacher is hard. I think it is one of the hardest jobs in terms of, when you have eighteen kids in your class, you have them for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week and you are their parent during that time. You take care of them and you want them to be successful, you want them to be happy, you want them to love school, and I think teachers have so much that is going on right now.

Do teachers play multiple roles in the classroom? YES!  We are nurses, counselors, peace makers, counselors, you are always thinking about your kids all the time. It is hard because your brain never shuts off when you go home. You are always thinking of that one kid. You are always thinking of, “Ok, did they go home, did they get a warm dinner, did they go home and get on an electronic device the whole time, and did anyone have a conversation with them?”

How do you approach teaching a diverse group of kids? You really need to look at all your kids, all the different levels and different needs and get that into that one perfect day. I think it is hard being a teacher and I don’t think people realize how hard it is.

Are the kids in Longview doing well? In terms of our Longview kids, I think we have great kids. I think we have a great community. I really enjoyed both of my kids groups of friends and their families. Overall Longview is doing well.

Do you see the impact or any effect of electronic gadgets or phones on your first graders? Yes. I know kids are on the Xboxes, tablets and phones and are not having enough conversation with families, not going outside to play, not doing homework, etc.

Is it evident when students get too much screen time? I can tell when my kids have had too much screen time. They almost come across like spacey, like they need to go out and get some fresh air.

Does too much screen time affect their ability to focus? Yes.

Would you like to see kids reduce screen time? Yes, and be limited on it. There should be some sort of timer that at a certain time the device shuts off.

What do you do after work for fun? I watch my kids play sports! I like to read a lot – I am a big reader. I like to exercise. I am my kid’s taxi, they are at a busy time of life and I drive them everywhere. My son just got his permit. He asks if he can I drive, and I say, “Yes you can, yes you can!”

What do you like to read? I like to read all kinds of books; I like to read mostly mystery thrillers and whatever is hot at the time.

Whatever book is hot at the time? Yes, whatever people are talking about, that is what I like to read. An example is ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’-I really like that. ‘Sometimes I Lie’ by Alice Feeney. ‘Woman in the Window’ was good, not quite as good as I thought it would be.

Are you a Pinterest person? Yes, I am a Pinterest person when it comes to books and food. Mostly recipes I never make but they look good, so I think I am going to make it – but I don’t!

What kind of exercise do you like to do? I like to spin twice a week at Lower Columbia College and I like to walk when the weather is nice. Spinning is kind of my thing right now because it is indoors.

Do you hike with your family? I like to hike too; we go hiking a lot, when the weather is nice.

What have I not asked you that I should have? Oh, I have chickens and I love my chickens! That is also what I do after work; I take care of my chickens.

How many chickens do you have? We had nine, but now we cannot find our rooster. I think we have eight now.

Do you like the eggs? I like the chickens; they are my pets. I like the eggs too, but the chickens are my pets. I enjoy the chickens they crack me up. During the summer when I am home, the chickens free range.

Do you have a dog? I have a dog but he is on a runner so my “girls” know to stay away from him because he is not a big fan of the chickens.

So when you say your “girls” you mean your chickens? Yes, my girl chickens. They are “my girls”, my “ladies”.

Do they have names? Yes, my kids have named them. We have Marshmallow, Snowball, Chickee C, Fluffy Butt, Tim, Goldie Golden, and Zebra.