Archived Voice Articles
By Sally Jongsma
Morry Blankespoor’s (’66) response to being named a 2008 Distinguished Alumnus was an incredulous, “Why Me?”—which may say something about why he was selected. A well-respected and loved English teacher, he retired in 2005 after forty years of teaching in high school, just prior to his third hip replacement surgery. He figured it would be easier for the school not to have to hire a long-term replacement when he was so close to retirement.
Blankespoor says he became more comfortable with his award when he began thinking of himself as representing the thousands of alumni who “get up and get ready for work every day and try to be salt and light,” rubbing shoulders with the people they come into contact with.
Growing up in Northwest Iowa, Morry enrolled at Dordt College in 1960. After a severe accident kept him out of school much of his junior year of high school, he had become an avid reader. Back in school for his senior year, he recalls sitting in English class under Dr. James Koldenhoven, later a professor at Dordt, thinking, “that guy loves his job so much.”
“He became a model,” says Blankespoor.
But attending college was a privilege that not everyone could afford in 1960. Dordt was a junior college at that time and, after two years, instead of transferring somewhere else, Blankespoor’s father suggested that maybe he should teach for a year or two to find out if it was what he really wanted to do. Iowa schools allowed people to teach after 75 credits of college at that time. He taught for two years in Oskaloosa, Iowa—the second year acting as principal as well. Still, it was enough to convince him that he did want to finish his college degree and teach English. He returned in 1964, after Dordt moved to a four-year curriculum.
He has continued to enjoy teaching, even though he’d be the first to admit that he enjoys the occasional snow day break.
People sometimes believe that teachers have it made with summers off and school out at 3:00 in the afternoon. But Blankespoor notes how many people leave teaching after a few years. “It’s very hard work and takes a lot of energy.” He cites keeping up with students’ worlds, taking tickets at ball games, and doing the increased paperwork required by law today as adding to the continuing challenge of being a fresh classroom teacher.
“You really have to have a love for kids and for seeing their curiosity grow,” he says, adding that being a good teacher requires sensitivity to individual needs. He also believes students need authentic relationships with adults. “When you walk down the hall you need to meet their eyes, engage them, attend their events, be interested in them—but not be their buddy.”
“A student once asked whether I got bored teaching the same stuff year after year. No, I don’t. Every year, students have new insights; every year, I learn from my students, too,” Blankespoor says.
“It doesn’t really get a lot easier over time because you must constantly look for ways to relate to the students in your class. What works for one class doesn’t work for another,” he says.
He has noticed some differences over the years: students are more open about expressing their faith today; they’re dealing with lots of issues including pregnancies and family break up; they have been influenced strongly by the culture around them; and they work a lot.
“It’s harder to convince kids today that this is their job,” he says about school.
Blankespoor spoke briefly at an alumni banquet honoring this year’s Distinguished Alumni, providing inspiration and warm memories for those who attended.