THIS MONTH'S WINNER: Kelley Blakslee – First Grade Teacher at Biltmore Prep

NOMINATED BY: Olivia Callanen

Tell us how you decided to become a teacher? 

I’m one of those people who always knew what she wanted to do. I grew up here, went to Desert Vista High School. I took an Aspire To Teach Class there, where we got to do internships in classrooms. I never had a moment where I made the decision, I just always knew. I remember listening to my friends talking about not knowing what their major was going to be, and always knowing I wanted to teach.  

Biltmore Prep is a Spanish immersion school.

Was Spanish always a part of your teaching career?

Definitely. I learned it when I was in school and took classes on English as a second language while getting my degree from ASU. I taught in Glendale for three years and then ended up going to Honduras to teach for two school years. I loved it and feel so lucky to have spent time there. 

I would speak Spanish everywhere except school when I was there, because the classroom was all English speaking. I taught 4th grade at a private school. I really enjoyed the entire experience. I met all kinds of great people and got to live two hours from the beach. It wasn’t a bad gig.  

What is important to remember about teaching first graders? 

Whenever I meet with parents on a Back to School night, I always emphasize keeping the magic alive. When children are this young, there’s such an excitement about learning, and the worst thing to do is crush that spirit in their six-year-old heart.

When I teach, I want to convey that reading and writing is magical to the kids. Look how exciting it is! If we push that excitement, the kids will believe it and think it’s great, instead of looking at schoolwork as a chore.  

We heard a lot about Omar when you were nominated for this award. Can you tell us about him? 

Omar is my pet pot-bellied pig. He is going to be six in a couple of weeks. I grew up with tons of animals. Chickens, ducks, lizards, dogs and cats. But my partner Joe never had a pet as a kid, not even a goldfish. When we were deciding on a pet, we wanted one that was a little self-reliant, one that wouldn’t be sad all day when we went to work. He’s allergic to cats, so I did some research on pot-bellied pigs. It ended up being a good fit. 

Pigs are incredibly smart animals. Omar learns fast and he has his own personality. He can be a little ornery, and he loves snacks. His favorites are avocados and strawberries. 

On the last day of school, I’ll bring Omar to class. I talk him up all year, I’ll tell the kids if they are quiet, we can look at an Omar picture or video. So there was real hype surrounding his visit. Joe was the one who brought him in, and the kids recognized him from the videos and said, “oh look, it’s the pig handler!”