Northview — As a Creedence Clearwater Revival song played on the speakers of her computer last week, Allison Blackford readied her Crossroads Middle School classroom for the first day on Sept. 6.
Even before her career has begun, she said she thinks about her teaching legacy “all the time.”
“I want my students to remember me as someone who pushed them, someone who helped them grow into who they wanted to be. I want them to tell people, ‘Miss Blackford was kind. She helped me out. She had my back, but she also pushed me to be my best.’”
She pushed off a wall with her foot to gain momentum to move a cabinet from one side of her room to the other, where it will serve to hold college texts she thinks might come in handy and the coffee maker where she will brew the cup a day she allows herself.
Dressed in a Wildcats sweatshirt and shorts, Blackford unpacked tubs of her own middle-school-age-appropriate novels and set up a corner in the back with a gray papasan chair and lamp.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous,” she admitted. “When I was student teaching I had something to go off of, like the curriculum or the procedures my mentors created. Now, I’m creating the procedures; I’m creating the atmosphere in the room. That’s a big responsibility.”
Besides being the first day of a new school year, Sept. 6 also marked what Blackford, who graduated Aquinas College in January with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a focus on learning disabilities, hopes is the beginning of a long, impactful career.
She will teach a math class for part of the day, and oversee a resource room where her students can get extra help the rest of the school day.
“I want my students to remember me as someone who pushed them, someone who helped them grow into who they wanted to be.”— First-year teacher Allison Blackford
Throughout student teaching during college, Blackford taught all grade levels, but “I feel like this (middle school) age is special.”
She recalled her own middle-school years as “an awkward time of trying to figure out who I was while also trying to find the friend group that I really belonged in.”
If there really were such a thing as education fairies, it would be clear they have been spreading their magic dust in front of Blackford’s path since she was a little girl.
The 2017 Grandville High School graduate hadn’t even been born when her grandfather, the late Tom Blackford, retired from Kentwood Public Schools after decades in the district. She grew up hearing stories about the impact he’d had on so many, and at his funeral in 2012, she recalled being astounded by the number of former students and co-workers who showed up to pay their respects.
“I never fully got to know him as the person his students had, so just hearing those stories, he was an inspiration.”
Blackford also has a family member who lives with autism spectrum disorder, and saw how he struggled until his diagnosis in middle school.
“Before then, he really didn’t have a great support system around him. They would say he was just being defiant, being difficult … but seeing when people did start advocating for him, how that flipped his mindset on schooling — I want to be that person for a student who has a difficult time.
“I want to help those students enjoy coming to school and not dread it, to find a way for them to be able to learn.”
Challenges Strengthen Resolve
Blackford is well aware that with pandemic-related learning hurdles and political winds blowing directly on K-12 public education, it’s a challenging time to be joining the profession. But that only strengthens her resolve, she said.
“Even with all the differences in technology that the pandemic brought, it just shows that teachers are forever learners,” she said. “There’s no point where, as an educator, you’re going to say ‘Well, I know everything.’ The career is ever-evolving. The challenges are just another learning opportunity.”
As for the challenges her students will face, “this is the time to find the people that you really want to surround yourself with,” she would advise them. “Find the people who make you a better person and who you can rely on in difficult situations. When things get hard, having a good set of people around you will help you get through it.”