When she was a child, Kaley Blankenship was convinced her grandmother was a movie star. Whenever she and her family went to the grocery store or other public places, people would come up to them to share how important her grandmother was and how she impacted their lives. Blankinship swelled with pride over the fact that her grandmother was famous.
As Blankinship became a little older and wiser, she figured out her grandmother wasn’t a movie star after all – she was a retired elementary school teacher who had taught for 33 years. While not famous in the celebrity sense, her grandmother indeed was revered in their community and in Blankinship’s heart.
“I grew to understand that while Hollywood may not even know her name, the people of our community did, and it was all because she was a teacher,” said Blankinship. “Not only did she greatly impact the lives of so many members of our community, but she strived to embrace each opportunity to instill joy.”
Blankinship, a fifth grade teacher at Carrollton Upper Elementary School who last spring was selected by her peers to represent them as the 2021-2022 CUES Teacher of the Year, benefited from her grandmother’s expertise as well.
“Before I ever entered my first classroom, I spent time at her home immersed in a sea of adventure and imagination through authentic reading and writing experiences,” she said. “These experiences were composed of engaging activities from which I would get information and pleasure and were essential to how I learned to communicate with others.”
Fast forward to Blankinship’s high school years. Another educator made a strong impact on her life – this time her weightlifting coach.
“In our class, I was one of three girls alongside the entire varsity football team,” said Blankinship. “However, that was not an excuse for Coach. This meant that fairness was defined by everyone having the same workout plan, same expectations, regardless of prior experiences. While in his class, if I complained, grew frustrated, wanted to quit, he pushed harder. He knew that if he did not expect more from me, I would indeed seek failure. He would not accept any less than what he thought my potential could be.”
These two examples, Blankinship says, were critical experiences that shaped her own teaching philosophy.
“For them, it was more than facilitating the transfer and understanding of information, it was seeing me experience a love of learning, or come to understand the importance of perseverance,” said Blankinship. “The delivery of their instruction was drastically different; however, the overall outcome was the same for me. These two life-changers ignited a love for learning within me and instilled values in me that I wanted to someday emulate with my own students, which is why this profession was the only path for me.”
Blankinship’s learning experiences with her grandmother and coach were instrumental in how she developed her own teaching style.
“I began my career with an established mission and desire to be that same inspiration to my students, and make the effort to influence each child to recognize his or her uniqueness and learning styles to achieve the highest success, have a desire for learning, and recognize that this uniqueness adds value to the community and the world,” she said. “My mission has been continuously used as my guide in the creation and diversity of the delivery of my planning to accommodate each child individually.”
Blankinship says in order for learning to be optimized, relationships are important.
“Every day that I am privileged to fulfill my passion as an educator, I have the incredible responsibility to invest my energies in creating a better future for each individual child who I come into contact with, and in turn, take that opportunity alongside him or her to collaboratively learn from our past, impact our present, and invest in our future together,” she said.
“The relationships I have built with my students will forever be my greatest accomplishment and contribution in education,” Blankinship continued. “Regardless of our selected profession, it is our responsibility as humans to pass on our knowledge and leave the world better than we found it. Therefore, teaching as a profession allows me to transmit my knowledge through time while inspiring new knowledge. That is the highest of honors.”