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Joanne Blanks Retires After 50 Years of Service

Blanks with Board of Education

“Dedicated to doing the work!”

“A true professional educator who truly loves her students and the art of teaching.”

That’s how staff members who have worked with Joanne Blanks described the history teacher.

Her co-workers will say their goodbyes to Blanks in June as she walks out of the doors of Person High School and begins a new chapter in her life.

Joanne Blanks has spent the last 50 ½ years teaching, learning, and sharing her love of history with students. She has taught at both Northern Middle (Junior High) School and Person High School.

After five decades, she says it’s now time for her to retire. 

After graduating from Roxboro High School, Mrs. Blanks set out to become an attorney.  She headed off to Queens College for two years before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from North Carolina State University in 1971.  She moved to Lumberton, NC for a short stint and then moved “back home” to Roxboro.  While figuring out if she wanted to return to school for a law degree, Mrs. Blanks searched for a job.  She quickly found that at that time, the job opportunities in Person County were sparse.  “The only opportunities were in the schools.  Mr. Doug Gray, Principal at Northern Junior High School, offered me the library position,”  Mrs. Blanks said.  She continued, “After a few weeks, Mr. Gray began sending students into the library for additional help with their classes.  I really enjoyed helping the students understand what they were missing.  I could see how proud the students were when they found success.”  The students’ excitement over learning is what led Mrs. Blanks to obtain her teaching certification.  In August 1974, she completed a master’s degree in education from Duke University.   

Mrs. Blanks shared that being selected as the SAS in School Creative Teacher of the Year in 2004 was one of the greatest honors during her tenure.  “Out of 5 finalists, they called me to do a phone interview in the middle of class.  I was in my 30th year debating whether to retire at that time or not.  The program offered robust professional development with all of the new technology and it reignited me,” she recounted.  “My husband was working out of town and had been trying to reach me and couldn’t get through.  I found out later that all calls to my room had been blocked in the event that the surprise announcement would be leaked.” Blanks grinned when remembering the day she was announced.

The biggest challenge that Mrs. Blanks faced in her 50+ years teaching occurred within the past two years.  “Teaching virtually was the toughest.  Trying to reach the kids and knowing that they weren’t there was heartbreaking.  The students would log on to class and check out.  You could not keep them focused or engaged.  They missed out on a lot academically and socially.  As a teacher it was truly painful because I couldn’t “fix it”.” Blanks said through tears.  “Trying to get them back now has been tough but we are turning the corner.” 

Before Blanks’s new journey begins, she shares words of encouragement for the teachers and staff she leaves behind.

“Love your students, care for them, and teach them life skills that will help them their entire life,” she said.  To new teachers, “Your job doesn’t stop at 3:30 or in June; making connections with students is key as they can see right through and if you aren’t prepared, the kids know it and if you don’t care, they know that too.”

Blanks also has a message for her students.

“Always give whatever job you are working at 100%, always be kind, you will always be my babies, and if you ever need me just call.”  Mrs. Blanks stated after sharing that if students ever need her to just call, “and they do.”

She says some of her fondest memories will be the relationships she established with the students.  Having students collectively come back from universities and say that they can sit in the overwhelming classes and that they are okay because her class had prepared them.  “My recognition comes from my students.  Even if they don’t remember the history, they remember the work ethic I instill and most importantly, that I care.  It makes it all worth it when kids that I have taught become successful.”

Person High School Principal Jonte’ Hill said the school environment will never be the same without Blanks.  He said wherever she goes, her legacy will continue to be felt in the classrooms.  “I knew from when I first began at PHS that she was the one I would hate to lose,” said Hill. “She’s dynamic because of her instruction, her care for others, and willingness to be a life-long learner. And she’s been faithful to our school, our students, and to me. She’s been a leader and I don’t know what we’ll do without her. We appreciate her greatly.”

“The good Lord didn’t bless me with biological children but did bless me with many many kids during my 50+ years. I will miss the kids the most.  Teaching is a calling - you have to have a passion for it,” stated Blanks.

So, what’s next for Blanks?

She says she’ll be enjoying spending time with her husband and horses; and, oh, cleaning her house.