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January Pietila joins Hiawatha elementary staff

The Othello Outlook of Othello, Washington

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After January Pietila's three children grew up, she decided it was time to become a teacher.

Pietila originally got an economics degree. Now, she's an experienced elementary school teacher teaching fourth grade at Hiawatha Elementary School.

"I worked in several jobs," she said. "Everywhere I worked, I always ended up bringing kids in. Finally, it became pretty obvious that it was my passion and that's why I ended up teaching."

Pietila's enthusiasm for teaching is obvious. Her classroom is full of well-used books, toys and construction paper and covered in brightly-colored posters.

"Education changes every year," she said. "The students change every year, so how you adapt, what you do, has to be different."

Pietila taught at Wahluke for eight years before her husband took a job in LaCrosse. She moved to Othello to have a doable commute, though at 70 miles either way, it's still a long haul.

"Othello is a little closer drive than Wahluke and they were nice enough to hire me here," she said.

Pietila was born in Quincy and raised in Douglas County, so central Washington life and culture is nothing new for her. Asked if she would rather be teaching in a larger town, Pietila said, "Absolutely not."

"I raised my kids for a couple years in Vancouver and small towns are much better because kids don't fall through the cracks," she said. "In a small town, if you don't know everything you need to know, somebody in the area will. When you're in a city, you don't even know the neighbors; as a teacher, you don't know the families. A small town is much better. They'll take care of the kids."

As a new arrival to the community of Othello, Pietila said she is impressed by the town's evident pride in itself. She praised the well-kept businesses, well-maintained homes and the town's sense of identity and purpose.

She has a strong sense of identity, too.

"I have some hobbies, reading and basket weaving, but to be honest with you, I teach," she said. "It's what I do and it takes most of my time."

Fourth-grade students are Pietila's favorite age group to teach. In fourth grade, she tries to show students that it's OK to fail and try again.

"Fourth grade is a big year for them because they're finally old enough to not just be threatened by not knowing everything," she said. "It's OK not to have all the answers the first five minutes... there are kids ready earlier, but most of them are ready right around fourth grade."

Pietila wants to teach her students to be flexible and persistent as they learn. She said she tries to remain flexible, too, working to incorporate evolving standardized tests into her curriculum while avoiding teaching to the test. For her, a classroom has to have a strong balance of purpose, accountability and fun.

Challenging students and watching them have "ah-hah" moments motivates Pietila to keep teaching. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, reading, basket weaving and spending time with her first grandchild, who was born very recently.

The move to Othello was actually something Pietila began considering seven or eight years ago after she met superintendent George Juarez. She said she loves the administrators of Othello School District and called her colleagues at Hiawatha great teachers.

"I feel very fortunate," she said. "It's a great place to work... It's going to be a good year."

Despite the 70-mile commute Pietila has to drive twice daily, she said Othello is a great place to work and thinks she wants to stick around for a while.



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Original Publication Date: October 22, 2015



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