Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Remarkable Teacher

Note: Early last week, Jean Blakeslee died at the age of 85. Jean was an important person in our community and an important person in my life. I missed her memorial service because we were out of town, but this is what I imagine others besides me had to say about her.

Jean Blakeslee was my fifth grade teacher at Conger Elementary from 1966-1967 and was one of those benchmark teachers you look back at later and say "I am so lucky I had her." I believe it was her first year teaching at Conger and those of us in her class were amazed that our teacher was also the principal's wife. Somehow that seemed too fantastical to believe. 

Fifth grade with Mrs. Blakeslee was a year of spelling bees (which she loved), of being read The Hobbit, which she also loved, and of science experiments sometimes gone fabulously awry (the praying mantis case that hatched in the dead of February, filling our classroom with hundreds of miniature mantises when we walked in that next morning, comes to mind). For our Halloween parade that year, Mrs. Blakeslee showed up as a witch with a tall pointy hat that added to her already impressive height. (Mr. Blakeslee showed up dressed as Mrs. Blakeslee, complete with hose, heels, and falsetto voice, stunning us all again.)

Our fifth grade classroom was full of singing. Mrs. Blakeslee had us sing a lot. Looking back, I suspect she used singing as a way to divert our energies and focus our attention. We sang lots of different songs, but the one we sang most enthusiastically was "Goober Peas," a Civil War song. How could a bunch of eleven year olds resist a chorus of "Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!"?

Mrs. Blakeslee figured out very early on that I was a voracious reader, and often steered me to books that she thought would challenge me. I remember her putting Irene Hunt's Up A Road Slowly in my hands, saying "I think this would be a good book for you to read, April." She was right. She fed my desire to write as well as my love of reading, and many years later turned over to me a story I had penned as a sixth grader and mailed to her to show her I was still writing. 

Mrs. Blakeslee let me know she believed in me, and her belief in me carried me into junior high school next year and beyond. You don't forget those kind of things about a teacher.

When I moved back to Delaware in 1990, our paths crossed at various places, including the soft-serve ice cream stand near her house. She was active with a passion in Delaware after retiring from teaching and sometimes we crossed paths at various community events. We always talked when we met and I always, always called her "Mrs. Blakeslee" until the day she looked at me and said, "I think we are both old enough now that you can call me Jean."

Jean Blakeslee was a remarkable woman and a great teacher. She left her imprint all over our community; I am blessed that she left it on me as well.


Sharon said...

April, I'm so sorry for your loss. Although I'm sure she left behind a legacy that will live on.

I remember my 8th grade English teacher. She was just like Mrs. Blakeslee. I'm sure she passed away long ago, as she was nearly 60 when I had her in 8th grade. BUT I'll never, never forget her!

see you there! said...

Your tribute to your teacher is very moving. Both of my daughters at different years had the same first grade teacher and they both say she made them love school. I know she passed away some time ago but how happy those teachers would be to know they made a difference to a child.


Brandee Shafer said...

I was blessed in reading this. I had a few teachers like this, too, and I will always love them for helping me become.