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Teacher Spotlight – Mr. Olason, Mt. Solo Middle School

Spotlight – Q & A

Where did you grow up? I was born in New York City and moved to Salt Lake City, UT as a baby. We lived in Salt Lake City until sixth grade then moved to Burien, WA, which is south of Seattle. I graduated from Glacier High School, which no longer exists.

The high school was located at the north end of the runways at SeaTac Airport, during class the jets would zoom right over the school and everyone had to stop what they were doing, wait for the jets to pass then resume school. The noise was just part of the school culture and life.

My wife graduated from R.A. Long.

Where did you go to college? I went to Western Washington University and earned a technology degree. I worked in private business for a while, then went back to Western and got my teaching degree. My first job was as a substitute teacher in Federal Way in 1987.

My wife and I moved to a very small village just north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The village had about 260 to 300 people in it. The job market back then was poor, so you had to move where the jobs were.

What was an Alaskan winter like? The winter of 1989 was one of the coldest on record in Alaska and the thermometer pegged at minus 50 degrees below zero.

Why did you leave Alaska?  My wife was pregnant with our first child in 1989 and being 60 miles from the nearest road was not a great idea, so we moved back to Washington.

We moved to the Willapa Valley, I got a job in a small town called Menlo. Both of our kids were born while we lived there.

When did your family move to Longview? In the early 90’s we moved to Longview when I got a job at Natural High School. Natural High School started in the late 1970’s as an alternative high school. I worked at Natural High School for about 2 years.

I moved from Natural High School to Monticello Middle School, where I taught science and math. I worked at Monticello for 11 years. My last 16 years have been at Mt. Solo.

What is the best thing about being a teacher? One of the best parts is that middle school kids are a lot of fun. I really enjoy teaching kids this age they have a lot of energy and are typically very positive.

What are some of the keys to being a good teacher? One of the things is to have a set of procedures kids know that are very clear. The kids will respond to it. Also, there has to be flexibility, I have been teaching middle school almost my whole career, middle school kids make tons of mistake. For the most part, they want to correct the mistakes – so you cannot get too rigid. Allow the kids room to make some errors.

What advice would you have for new teachers? My advice to a new teacher would be, find out what good teachers do – and do that. The teachers I have seen fail have a very fixed mindset, the teachers who flourish have a growth mindset. Great teachers look at other points of view and the big picture. You cannot put a round peg in a square hole – steal every great idea you can.

Do you have any hobbies? I love to snow ski, ride my Surly or Trek bicycle, my wife and I also kayak together. My wife and I just bought an RV trailer, so we will see if we can be RV’ers.

What would you tell the community about what life is like in school? I would tell them that teachers are working hard, and I think the community knows this. I would also tell them kids are improving. If you look at the progression of kids who go through Mt. Solo, they have much better skills after three years of middle school.

How are students different from perceptions created by the media? The kids of today are much the same as in the past – kids are essentially kids. The thing that has changed is the influences on kids, the Internet, technology, structure of the household.  We deal with kids coming in from a different point of view now than we did twenty years ago.

What is your outlook on the future? It’s positive. Whenever you have a bad day, you realize it’s not a lot of kids who are pushing your buttons. You look at your roster and know that most of the kids are great.

What else? I had a child very early in life, so now I have seven grandkids; the oldest grandchild is 21 years old.

What is it like to be a grandfather? I have older grand kids and younger ones, so the dynamic is different based on their age. My relationships with my older grandchildren is more fatherly due to their age. It is great to go over to my daughter’s house and have fun with the kids then go home.

Any final thoughts? We have a great staff at Mt. Solo and feel supported.

2018-12-05T17:53:08+00:00December 4th, 2018|

Longview teachers have class

We’re proud of our educators and are taking this opportunity to introduce you to two of them, in their own words. They have different interests but share a passion for preparing Longview students for successful futures!

This is a supplement to the Longview Public Schools annual report. Both Gail Wells and Sam Kell are featured in the printed version of the annual report.  

Gail Wells, math teacher, Monticello Middle School.

Gail Wells believes everyone can do math. She works the room and uses technology to gauge how much each student understands, even those who never raise their hands.

Where did you grow up and go to school? I was born in North Dakota and grew up in Federal Way, Washington. I was in the first graduating class at Thomas Jefferson High School in Auburn and went to Western Washington University for a degree in home economics.

How did you get from home economics to math? My passion was food and nutrition, but math is completely entrenched in home economics—measuring food, finance, sewing …

Why do people think math is so hard? Society doesn’t allow people not to be “readers,” but for some reason it’s OK to not be good at math. The mindset should be that “I can do it,” because everyone can.

How long have you been teaching? Twenty-six or 27 years—10 years at St. Helens and 10 years at Robert Gray, with four years as a math coach at Kessler and Robert Gray. Now I’m finishing at Monticello Middle School.

How has teaching math changed? When I was in school, it was, “Here is how you do it. Now copy what I do.” We don’t do that anymore. Instead of just handing students an algorithm or a way to do something, we do a lot of concrete building of understanding before moving to the abstract.

What is the best thing about being a teacher? That look on a student’s face when they “get it”—it’s priceless.

What are some of the keys to being a good teacher? Number one is understanding what the goal is. For me it’s the state standards—I have to know what the students need to know. Also …

  • Making sure the students get the needed feedback so they can self-evaluate.
  • Being ready when they walk through the door—knowing where you’re going and how to get there, not just turning the page on the book and teaching them what’s on the next page.
  • Adjusting if the students are not getting it.

The big thing here at Monticello is I have an amazing teaching partner, Phil Hartley. We collaborate, do assessments, reflect on student work, talk about the goals and are transparent about our work. Today we are going to share kids and do some interventions, so we can get them where they need to be right now.

To be a good teacher, it’s everything, including a great administration that supports you. It’s not just one thing.

What advice do you have for new teachers? Don’t think you already know everything. I’ve been teaching for 26 or 27 years, and every year I learn something new. Every year I get better. So listen to your colleagues, listen to your students, and be willing to adapt. Be a part of the team.

What’s something people might not know about you? I’ve been making gingerbread houses for 30 years. I have two sons who were in the armed service—one still is. I send gingerbread houses to Afghanistan and Bosnia. My daughter taught English in South Korea, so I sent one to her.

What would you tell the community about what life is like in school? When those kids come up the stairs and say hi to me, it’s wonderful. It’s the best place in the world to work.

What are students like today? Students are considerate of each other. They want to do their best—they want to succeed.

Anything else? This is my last year of teaching. I want to have more time with my family and visit my grandchildren—I have six. My career as a teacher has been an amazing journey. I feel deeply blessed by every student I’ve ever had.

 

 

Sam Kell, industrial arts teacher, Mark Morris High School

Sam Kell practices what he teaches. At school, he introduces pre-apprenticeship students (pg. 3) to technical skills like carpentry. In his spare time, he works on his own fixer-upper house.

Where did you grow up and go to school? I spent my childhood in Kelso and Longview, and went to Catlin Elementary, Columbia Heights Elementary, Cascade Middle School and Mark Morris High School. I spent one year at Lower Columbia College and finished my final three years at Central Washington University in the industrial arts program.

Why did you get into teaching? I always liked working with people and going through the learning process. My mom is a pre-school teacher.

Who introduced you to industrial arts? My dad is a self-employed residential contractor. He flips houses and owns rentals. I started working with my dad when I was 10 or 11 years old. I was just a helping hand with sheetrock and roofs. In school I excelled in shop classes and was happiest in project-based learning.

What’s the best part about being a teacher? Building relationships with the students. Teaching is all about the relationships and the growth.

What are the students of today like? They are hard-working and task driven. People may assume students never get off their smartphone or think, “It’s not like when we were in school.” But I still see the drive in students to get things done. Sometimes it takes different teaching styles to motivate different students.

What is one thing you want to teach every student? One thing I’d like to teach every student is lifelong learning and self-evaluation. To be able to reflect on the job you just completed is a very important skill no matter what you do. I learned a long time ago, “reflect and do better.”

What would you like people to know about school? School is about learning, and failure is okay.

 Do you have hobbies? I love hunting, fishing and hiking, and I share season tickets to the Trailblazers. I’ve been a Blazers fan since elementary school. I watched Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler play. I also own a house in Kelso—it’s a fixer upper.

 Anything else? It’s important for young people in our community to recognize their own skills and recognize what Longview has to offer. Longview is a great place.

2018-11-07T15:28:49+00:00November 6th, 2018|
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