Spotlight Series – Mrs. Almer
Where were you born? I was born in Silverton, Oregon. Silverton is about 1 hour south of Portland.
Did you grow up in the Silverton area? No, I actually grew up in Cathlamet. I lived in Estacada, Oregon for my first three grades, and then went to Cathlamet from fourth through high school.
Why did your family move to Cathlamet? My dad was working for Crown Zellerbach.
What did your father do for Crown Zellerbach? He was a road-grader building logging roads.
What year did you move to Cathlamet? We moved to Cathlamet in 1963. That ages me!
Where did you go to school? It was called Cathlamet Elementary when I was there, but now it is Julius A Wendt Elementary. There was no middle school, it was just K-8 in one building, and then you went to high school for 9-12 grades.
What year did you graduate from Wahkiakum High School? Wahkiakum High School class of 1972.
Did you enjoy high school? Yes, I did well in school with a 3.8 average. It was small classes, about 42 kids in the whole graduating class and I was number five.
Did you participate in activities? I did Pep Club all four years, and Girls League. I was ASB secretary my senior year.
What did you want to do for a career? I wanted to be an airline stewardess. I wanted to work in travel. It has always interested me.
Why did you want to be a stewardess? I thought it would be an exciting life, seeing different people and going different places.
What did you do after high school? I was going to go to Business College because school was easy for me and I did not really want to go to college. I finally decided to go to work.
Where did you go to work? My first official job was at the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum Health Department in 1974.
What did you do at the health district? I was a clerk typist and greeted people.
What were some of your job duties? Back then, they did immunization clinics and I kept track of all of the immunization cards. I was there three years.
How were immunization records kept? We did it by hand. The information was written on 3×5 index cards. You had to write their name, birthdate, address, and what they came in for, on the card. We would give the card to the nurse, the nurse would give an injection and they would bring the card back to us and we would file it.
What sort of filing system did the department use? We would file the cards in a card file like the one they used to have at the library. I think it was twice a week that they had immunization clinics. They had a “TB” (tuberculosis) clinic where the patients that had been diagnosed with TB received medication.
Was tuberculosis an issue back then? I think TB mainly affected older people, but it phased out eventually. We had patients who came in monthly and a doctor would come up from Portland to talk to them about their health. We registered birth and death certificates too.
How did you register birth certificates? The hospital would send them over typed out and somebody would notarize and file it with the state. The certificate would stay in our office for a certain amount of time and people could come in and get certified copies of their birth certificate.
How were death certificates handled? With death certificates, funeral homes would bring them in all filled out, we would notarize and keep it on file for a certain amount of time.
Then you moved jobs within the Health Department? Yes, I worked in the Environmental Health area for about 1 ½ years. I moved to Longview in 1974 with a friend and her mother. I lived across the street from Broadway school and I would walk to work in the old McVickers funeral home. I walked to work because I did not have a car.
When did you get married? I got married in 1977 to my high school sweetheart – Jim. I was 15 when we started going out. We have been married 42 years.
Where did you meet your husband? At school. He was a senior and I was a freshman. He grew up in Skamokawa. His dad was a county commissioner and a sheriff.
Where else did you work? I went to work for Dr. Hastings, who was an allergist in town. I would do all of his dictation when he did testing on his patients, putting together their allergy books. I needed more hours, so I took a job at The Daily News for two or three years. I started out as a receptionist taking classified ads.
So this is the late ‘70s early ‘80s? Yes, that was about the time I got married. From the Daily News I went to work at an OB/GYN clinic for 5 years in billing.
After working at OB/GYN clinic what did you do? I went to work for a health insurance company named Select Care.
What did Select Care do? They were health insurers for local businesses. It was in the bank building downtown. It started out just seven of us in the office.
What did you do for Select Care? I was assistant to the care manager. I would work with doctors’ offices for referrals and authorization for procedures.
Do you have any children? Yes, I worked at Select Care until I had my son, prematurely at 25 weeks. He was 1 pound, 11 ½ ounces when he was born. His name was Tom.
How big was your son at birth? He fit in the palm of my husband’s hand.
Did being born prematurely cause Tom complications? Yes, his complication from premature birth was legal blindness.
Did you get advice or support along the way? Yes, I organized and ran a support group for parents of children with special needs for many years. The group was called PUMS (Parents United for Moral Support). I loved working with Ann Cavanaugh and David Stockard (former SPED Director and Asst. Director) – they kind of mentored and encouraged the group.
How much sight does Tom have? He has a little bit of vision in one eye and light perception in the other eye. He went all through the Longview School District with the vision staff, Pat Kelly, Susan LeMonds and Dianne Lauridsen.
How long was Tom in the hospital after birth? Tom was in the hospital for 11 weeks to the day and he came home 4 weeks before he was due.
How old was Tom when he started talking? At two years old, he was talking in full sentences. We never talked baby talk to him.
Where did Tom attend high school? He graduated from Mark Morris in 2010.
Did you go back to work when Tom got older? Yes, I started at Northlake and my first job was removing a couple of kindergarten girls from class when they were out of control and disruptive.
Where else in the district have you worked? I went over to Olympic and managed the computer lab for the entire school for about 6 years. Funding was lost and I went to Mt Solo for 2 years, but I am not a middle school person.
You prefer younger kids to middle school students? Yes, middle school students are just so different in attitude and respect, or lack of, and the hormones are pumping. I guess at my age, I was not as tolerant.
Did you want to work in an elementary school? Yes, we were having a reorganization. I ended up here at Mint Valley for the last seven years.
What is your role? I work under the nurse. I do all the first aid, all the medical care plans, dispense medications and make calls to parents and families. I take care of all the paper work for immunizations to make sure everyone is up on their forms. It is a huge job.
Is this one of the most important jobs in the building – helping kids in distress? Yes. I have to make a lot of decisions that I feel are above my pay grade.
What sort of tough situations do you face? Do I call an ambulance when a student is injured? I have to make that decision. Parents sometimes are not happy when an ambulance is called. Sometimes the job tough – very stressful. This is going to be my last year; I am going to retire.
Are you retiring at the end of this year? Yes, I am excited! I am just at the time of my life that I just need to take care of me.
Is your husband still working? Yes, he is still working. He has an upholstery shop on Ocean Beach called Jim’s Upholstery.
What are you going to do in retirement? I am going to relax. I want to travel. I have been traveling with my best friend; my husband is not a traveler. My son has gone with me a few times.
What are some of your best places you have been? Savannah Georgia was wonderful and we visited Graceland.
Are you an Elvis Presley fan? Yes, number one! I have always been an Elvis fan. There is just something about his voice. It gives me goosebumps and relaxes me. He has been gone as long as he has been here and I don’t get tired of listening to him. He was such a talent. He is very handsome and nice to look at.
What is your favorite Elvis song? I don’t have just one – I love them all! It has always been that way. I graduated from high school in 1972; Elvis did not pass away until 1977. He was huge then. He was in his prime doing Vegas shows when I was young.
Did you get to see Elvis perform live? Every time he came to Portland, tickets were sold out. I have gone to Graceland three times.
What is Graceland like? It is a time capsule for the ‘70’s, exactly like he left it. They have built a huge visitors center across the street.
Is there much Elvis memorabilia at Graceland? Yes, they have eight warehouses of Elvis artifacts. They kept every check, every invoice, every fan letter – everything was preserved. I do not think there has ever been an entertainer above him.
Where else have you traveled? We went to St Louis up in the arch. We have been to the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Corvette Museum in Boling Green. We stopped by the Jelly Belly factory.
Do you have a bucket list for when you retire? Not really, Graceland was on my bucket list, but I have taken care of that. It is one of my favorite places to see.
What do you do after school each day? I go home and pass out. It is tiring, emotionally and mentally. There is a lot that goes into taking care of the kids every day.
What is the best part of your job? The best part of my job is when the kids come in and say thank you, and say I am the best nurse ever! They say thank you for helping me when I need help the most. Thank you for the Band-Aid and thank you for the ice pack. A lot of it is emotional care.
Does helping kids make you feel good? Yes, that is the fun part, and they give you hugs. You know that you have done something to help them. It makes it all worth it.
What would you like to tell people who graduated in 1972 about what has changed in the schools? Things have changed tremendously since we went to school. They had hack paddles on the walls when I was in school – and used them. There was a lot of parent support for the schools, and more respect was shown towards adults. It is 180 degrees from when I was in school.
Did you ever get a hack? I never got a hack. Just seeing the hack board on the wall was bad enough.
What advice would you give to whoever replaces you? Have patience, pay attention to what you are saying, document, enjoy the kids and help them anyway you can.
At the April 8, 2019 school board meeting, the board unanimously approved the capital facilities bond proposal totaling $115 million. Projects in this proposal will touch every school and include:
- Mint Valley Elementary School replacement – $43 million
- Northlake Elementary School replacement – $43 million
- Safety and Security upgrades for all schools – $4.2 million
- Career Technical/Vocational upgrades at R.A. Long and Mark Morris high schools – $8.4 million
- Memorial Stadium upgrades – $7 million
- Large facility repair projects – $9.4 million
Find out more here.
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.
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.