A good teacher isn’t hard to find. A good teacher understands the class, explains course material, teaches in an effective way, and connects with students. A good teacher molds students into better versions of themselves academically and personally. And Jesuit Dallas is full of good teachers. But 12345 Inwood Road is losing a great one come June 1, 2019.
After around 40 years of teaching and 20 years of service to the Jesuit Dallas community, Mrs. Anne Blackford is leaving Jesuit and retiring from teaching to embark on new and exciting ventures in her life. One of the most revered and universally loved teachers by students and faculty alike, Mrs. Blackford’s intense passion for forming and connecting with students first and teaching math second, her charismatic and energetic personality and teaching style, and her example of kindness and faith in the way she lived will be deeply missed and leave shoes no one else will be able to fill once she officially bids farewell to Jesuit.
Born in Covington, Kentucky and a native of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Anne Durham at the time was surrounded by a love for education, learning, and teaching, with both of her parents serving as public school teachers in the Fort Thomas school system.
“My parents expected my sister and myself to do very well in school. School was important and back in the 1950s and 60s when I was in elementary and high school I was considered a brain; that’s what they called it. I guess now you’d call it a nerd,” said Mrs. Blackford.
In that small town of Fort Thomas, Anne Durham became Anne Blackford, meeting her future husband, Bob Blackford, in high school. Done with high school but looking to stay close to home following the passing of her father in her senior year of high school, Mrs. Blackford attended and graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, earning her degree in teachers’ education as she followed in her father’s footsteps as a Transylvania graduate and then an educator.
Despite the obvious connection to teaching with two parents who worked as educators, the choice to join the teaching profession wasn’t always clear. “Both of my parents were teachers so that was a career path I knew was possible. I had an excellent Algebra I teacher named June Bridgens. I am also of the time if you were a smart female, you were either a teacher or a nurse.”
“After I had Mrs. Bridgens, I thought maybe I could do this. I always enjoyed math in school and then as I got farther along in math courses I went ‘Gee this is really cool. I think I’d like to do this forever,’” explained Mrs. Blackford.
However, while Mrs. Blackford’s love for mathematics propelled her to an over 40-year career spent with everything from addition and subtraction to Algebra I and AP Statistics, she also taught courses over her career on occasion in World History, science, and computer programming.
“I have a double major, and my other undergraduate major is in history. And I actually taught world history one year. I was teaching three math courses and two World History courses. Not too many people have that combination,” commented Mrs. Blackford.
Explaining her passion for math, Mrs. Blackford said “First off, I’ve been doing it for so long it just seems natural.”
“I love the little puzzles that you have to figure out. You have to figure out a little puzzle everyday. I like watching a student who has trouble and I love seeing the light bulb come on. I like the challenge of trying to figUre out where they are in the puzzle and trying to see if I can direct them towards the completion of that puzzle,” said Mrs. Blackford.
To sum it up, she said, “I can’t imagine doing something different.”
One unique factoid Mrs. Blackford has on most every other teacher she’s worked with has been the number of teaching jobs she’s held. Having moved to nine different cities with her husband who worked in the chemical industry, Mrs. Blackford began her teaching career in Cincinnati, Ohio at Deer Park High School. From there, she went on to part-time teaching in Northern Kentucky schools, to Louisville, Kentucky, then to Manasquan, New Jersey, back to Louisville, down to Memphis, Tennessee, to Little Rock, Arkansas, and finally to Dallas, Texas. After spending her first five years in Dallas at Bishop Lynch, where her children graduated from, Mrs. Blackford took a chance on Jesuit Dallas and has spent the last 20 years here.
For some the challenge of coming into an all-male high school and being expected to manage and teach a bunch of teenage boys may seem daunting, but after having taught all-girls and co-ed, in urban, rural, and suburban areas, in public, private, and parochial schools, the new frontier of Jesuit Dallas didn’t make Mrs. Blackford even think twice.
“Teaching teenagers keeps me on the ball. Being around younger people makes me feel like I’m younger.”
“I think you have to set a boundary. You’re an adult. Sometimes you have to be the adult in the room. Other times I enjoy having fun with my students,” commented Blackford.
“I learn something from my students everyday. Everyday’s just kinda exciting. I just need to make sure I’m not phoning it in. I’ve got to be on my toes everyday.”
Assessing some of the many changes in the teaching profession just in her 40 years, Mrs. Blackford pointed out the evolution of women’s rights and their role in the workforce as she experienced first hand as a trailblazing teacher at the time.
“When I first started teaching, if a woman got pregnant they had to quit their job. There was no such thing as maternity leave. I had to resign my first job after I was married when I was pregnant. Of course, I’m supposed to stay home with the baby. The fact that you would like to have a job and continue your career. Thank goodness that changed.”
As a teacher starting in the 70’s and still teaching into the 21st century, Mrs. Blackford noticed the ways her involvement as a teacher in students’ lives and the school community have changed for the better.
“The duties of a teacher have changed. It used to be that you might have a study hall or moderate a club or maybe you had cafeteria duty. You didn’t get here a half an hour or an hour before school started and stay here an hour or an hour and a half after school. I think there’s a whole lot more asked and I’m happy about that.
“I think that I’m a little bit more involved in the total student life of my students, their whole school experience. And I love going on retreats, I think that’s terrific. I love to go to sporting events and fine arts. I like to see my students somewhere else than just in a desk working on math.”
Explaining what makes Jesuit Dallas different having taught at so many schools nationwide, Mrs. Blackford said “I believe you can bloom where you are planted. I’ve been very fortunate to have encountered Jesuit and I have grown as a teacher and as a person. I’m glad they have continued to allow me to work here.
“Jesuit educators are very fortunate in that it is more than just teaching. It is a holistic approach. The things that we expect of our graduates- being religious, loving, open to growth, physically fit, working for justice- are also things that are expected of educators. We’re real fortunate to have fantastic colleagues.”
“Without Jesuit’s backing and support and nurturing, I don’t know I would still be doing this at the ripe old age that I am,” concluded Blackford.
Reflecting on what makes a Jesuit student different from the thousands of others she has taught, Mrs. Blackford said “I think that the pride that students take in being a member of this community is what may set them apart.”
“So I think the difference is the pride that the boys take in being part of the school and they demonstrate behavior most of the time that shows that they take pride in their school especially when they go on service activities the people are always so ‘oh let’s get the Jesuit boys to do that they always do such a good job’ so that might be what is the different part.”
Asked what she’ll miss most about being a teacher at Jesuit, Mrs. Blackford said “I will miss my students the most. I may tear up. I will certainly miss my colleagues, people I have been working with forever. I will miss the busyness of a high school. I will miss the people that I get to encounter here.”
“It’s funny we live in a city of four million people because not a weekend goes by that I don’t hear a ‘Mrs. Blackford!’ from someone that maybe I taught in another state or someone I taught last year or taught 20 years ago,” said Blackford.
Imparting a closing message to her students and the Jesuit Dallas community, Mrs. Blackford said “I think the thing to remember is everyone you encounter that’s an adult has been through being a teenager. And there are parts of it that you can’t believe you’re gonna make it one more day because of fill in the blank. ‘I’m so bored, I’m so busy, I’m so down, I’m tired, I’ve been sick forever and I’m never gonna get well and I don’t want to miss school.’ There are just so many things.”
“You’ve gotta get up everyday if you can and say ‘ok I’m gonna start today and try to be positive about things’. If you start thinking about how awful things are, it just becomes a big old snowball and it just makes things worse,” explained Mrs. Blackford.
“I’ve had some health challenges, especially since I’ve been here, and if I were to sit down and make a list of those I would say ‘why the heck do I even get out of bed everyday’. But the reason I do is because I have so many wonderful people that I encounter everyday. And it’s not all about me,” concluded Blackford.
Asked to describe herself in three words, Mrs. Blackford chose stubborn as her husband would say or persistent as she would counter, positive, and energetic. Some of the words students chose to describe Mrs. Blackford included charismatic, knowledgeable, witty, outgoing, gregarious, and quite simply fun. Mrs. Blackford brought a spark and passion into the classroom that very few teachers have and used her fervor for math and life to support, teach, nurture, and form countless students over her 40+ year career.
Mrs. Blackford brought a kindness for others and a pure love for people that everyone at Jesuit will miss. Whether you had Mrs. Blackford or not as a teacher at Jesuit, she touched every student and fellow faculty in the halls of 12345 Inwood Road over the last 20 years and she’ll leave a large legacy behind, a legacy that will live on through all she touched in her incredible career.
Stay tuned to The Roundup for more Jesuit Dallas faculty news!
Photo credit: Jowdy Photography