ILWACO, Wash. — Sue Anderson saw a lot in her 30 years with the Ocean Beach School District. She watched some of the nation’s biggest historical moments alongside her students and fellow teachers.
She helped maintain normalcy throughout numerous district reconfigurations and leadership changes.
She even teaches the children of students she taught years ago.
Once this school year finishes up, Anderson will say goodbye to the school district and hello to a new role: retiree.
“I never thought I would teach for 30 years,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed every year.”
Anderson moved to Washington with her family from California, where she taught high school civics. She wasn’t able to get a teaching job her first year because the state requires teachers to take some Washington-focused courses before becoming certified.
Before being hired to work full time as a kindergarten teacher for Ocean Beach, Anderson worked as a substitute teacher and for Grays Harbor College. She waited to go back to teaching full time until her youngest child was in second grade.
Anderson taught third through sixth grade for Ocean Beach. She taught at the old Hilltop School and Long Beach Elementary. She’s taught sixth grade at Hilltop Middle School the last two years. Regardless of what grade she was teaching, Anderson decorated her classroom with brightly colored murals and decorations.
“Her classrooms were always bright, cheerful and messy,” said Heidi Clarke, Anderson’s daughter. “If a wall was too boring, she would paint a mural on it. She would sing with students; dance, laugh, paint, draw … whatever it took to reach all her students.”
All three of Anderson’s children graduated from Ilwaco High School. For a while, the trio also worked for the school district. Clarke was a sixth-grade teacher, son Mike Anderson a track and cross-country coach, and daughter Sarah Taylor a high school counselor.
“Occasionally, I have tried to find her under ‘Mom’ on the district phone extension list,” Taylor said.
All three kids still work in education. Clarke teaches sixth grade in Colorado, Anderson is a college track coach, and Taylor is still counselor at Ilwaco High School.
“It was fun having all my kids working for the school district,” Anderson said. “I’ve got a family of people in schools.”
Anderson’s husband, Don Anderson, also helps out in the schools.
“It has been really fun to have her and Dad volunteer at track and cross-country meets,” Taylor said. “They have been the lead timers for the past 10-plus years. It is fun to work with them in that capacity.”
One of the highlights that came along with her kids working for the school district was that she got to teach in the classroom next to Clarke. The mother-daughter duo had an adjoining door between their classrooms.
“It was really fun because she’d open the door and be like, ‘Hey Mom, have you got any construction paper?’” Anderson said. “We started as Mrs. Clarke and Mrs. Anderson but soon the kids started poking their heads in the door too, saying, ‘Hey Mom, you got any construction paper?’”
Anderson and Clarke planned their lessons together. They often shared their classrooms and lots of laughter with each other and the kids, Clarke said.
“The years I got to work with my Mom were the best years I’ve had as an educator,” Clarke said. “We got to travel to conferences, go on field trips, giggle through staff meetings. She was my best friend, colleague, and mom. I couldn’t have asked for a happier time in my life.”
Anderson has many fun and colorful stories about her students and co-workers.
When Clarke was still in elementary school, Anderson taught her students a lesson about discrimination after telling them about the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.
“The kids in that third-grade class were so appalled at some of the pre-civil rights things happening in the South,” Anderson said.
So, Anderson told the kids only students with blue eyes could get water from the water fountain.
“I thought it was just going to be a little lesson in discrimination,” Anderson said. “The next thing I knew, and my daughter was one of the instigators, the kids had big signs on rulers and they had a protest march. They sat in front of the principal’s office.”
Another standout memory was a fifth-grade field trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
“It was destined to go down as the worst field trip of all time,” Anderson said.
The kids were supposed to take a ride on jet boats. Once everyone arrived, they learned the jet boats had been stolen overnight. The kids were able to still go on jet boats, but the trip was shorter and the boats smaller.
“We had three busloads of kids waiting for a jet boat ride,” Anderson said.
Then, on the way home, the Astoria Bridge was closed because an accident.
“We couldn’t get home. When they said the bridge was closed, we laughed. We thought they were kidding,” Anderson said. “Then it was like, ‘Oh, no.’ We had no idea how long it would be closed and whether we should go back to Longview.”
The kids were taken to Tapiola Park to hang out until the bridge reopened. While there, the bathrooms clogged up and a student fell out of a tree. Not to mention, there were 100 hungry fifth graders.
After a generous pizza purchase by some moms, and hours at the park, the group finally got home around 10 p.m.
“That was one of those field trips I vowed never to do again but we still go to OMSI,” Anderson said. “I’m always real nervous about the bridge.”
“Education swings on a pendulum,” Anderson said. “Something comes in and then it moves something else out.”
Education has changed a lot over the years, creating more stress for students, Anderson said. Despite the changes and challenges educators face, Anderson said she’s a “real believer” in education.
“We have a good program here. We’ve had school improvement over the years and it’s really helped our educators,” Anderson said. “People here are really hard working.”
Anderson’s worked under at least 12 superintendents during her time at Ocean Beach. The school district has also gone through many different reconfigurations.
“I’ve been lucky because at the school where I’ve been, I haven’t had that big of a change,” Anderson said. “Hilltop seems to be the one that has a lot of changes. I think a lot of it is just reconfigurations that happen because of the population and the age of the students.”
Anderson said now feels like a good time to retire, especially with the district’s upcoming reconfiguration.
“I feel like now’s the time for young people to come in,” Anderson said. “Another big change is coming to the district with the reconfiguration. They need some fresh ideas and energy.”