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home : education : schools May 28, 2016

5/21/2013 1:35:00 PM
Lori Small to retire from teaching
Lori Small, third- and fourth-grade teacher, and her group of Sisters Elementary School students of 2013. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Lori Small, third- and fourth-grade teacher, and her group of Sisters Elementary School students of 2013. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

Lori Small has been leading Sisters children on an adventure of discovery and learning for more than 31 years, but it's about to come to an end. When she watches her third-graders go on to fourth grade this spring, it will be for the last time.

She is retiring.

When Lori was young, she spent countless days with her grandmother - herself a school teacher of many years. When Lori speaks of her grandmother today, the early influence is clear.

Lori went off to Oregon State University in 1976, where the goal was "to get to teaching and be like my grandma."

After four years of hard work, she immediately hired on at Tumalo Elementary School ... sort of. She went to work with another teacher in a modular classroom working with 42 fourth- and fifth-grade students, with a promise from the principal: "We'll hire you if we can." That didn't work out.

Any doom-and-gloom Lori may have felt about her future as a teacher vanished in school-year 1981. Earl Armbruster, the newly installed principal of Sisters Elementary, put her to work.

Over the years, Small has taught third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, and she developed a creative partnership with legendary teacher, the late Diane Jacobsen.

Field trips were big on Lori and Diane's list of special ways to educate children. They put together a three-day program visiting and studying tide pools, Haystack Rock, Fort Clatsop and the Astoria Column. On the way back to Sisters, they would visit the Oregon Trail Museum in Oregon City and the State Capitol in Salem - all the time sleeping in school gyms.

For many of the students who participated in these learning excursions over the years, one thing probably still makes them smile: the memory of Lori and Diane singing in the buses as they rolled down the highway.

Camp songs like "Bear in Tennis Shoes" rang out as the buses rolled along. "Spider's Web" was one of the favorites - the song Lori performed at Diane Jacobsen's farewell celebration after her retirement and untimely death from cancer.

"That was a difficult thing for me to do," Lori quietly recalled. "We had such wonderful times teaching together."

When Small moved to teaching a 4th/5th grade blend, she introduced her students to a special lecture on constellations at Mt. Hood Community College, and transportation studies that included riding the MAX in Portland, and sailing on a sternwheeler in the Willamette River.

Then one day Lori pulled another idea from her overflowing bag of new ideas on how to create educational fun in her classroom.

She introduced Florence Nightingale as a way of learning biographical studies. (Florence Nightingale was a celebrated English social reformer and statistician of the 1800s, and the founder of modern nursing.) Lori Small became Florence Nightingale, and the children loved it, so they also dressed up to illustrate their biography book reports.

One day in January 1993, Lori took a trip into Earl Armbrusters's office to make one of the biggest announcements of her life; she told her boss she was pregnant.

Lori's triplets, Sara, Robert and Davidson were delivered by Caesarean section. Lori woke up and discovered she was completely blind.

During the last weeks of her pregnancy, gestational hypertension laid claim to Lori and preeclampsia toxemia struck her retinas - a condition that occurs only during pregnancy in first-time moms.

During that time of utter darkness, Lori had an inner vision of her dad, and recalls hearing his voice, and in her panic cried out, "But dad, where are you? I can hear you, but I can't see you." It took three weeks for her vision to return, but her doctors wouldn't release her to go back to teaching for a year. She counted the days, and was soon doing what she loved to do.

When her children were going to second grade, Lori had to have some time off, so she left her job for a year, and went tutoring, home-schooling and


"My dear husband (Jon) is one of the most supportive people I could ever ask for in my life," Lori says. "Without him I could never have achieved those demanding days of teaching class blends, field trips, carnivals, Florence Nightingale and those other wonderful things I've shared with so many students.."

Over the decades, Lori Small has taught hundreds of children, each unique.

"No student learns the same," she says. "I have learned to be flexible and prepared for change, because there is always change in education - especially in schedules - but I love it. Thank you everyone in the school district and Sisters community for all the support and wonderful experiences I have had these past 32 years."

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Article comment by: Rio Horn

Lori Small was the best teacher I have ever had. she has such a unique of teaching.. Happy retirement Ms. Small (:

I attended her third grade class in 1997

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