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Teacher Retirement: Mrs. Blackburn



                                                                                                        Photo by Christy Porter
Mrs. Blackburn recognized each one of her class students on an M & M candy display. The giant heart is centered with a melancholy M & M, depicting that she misses her students “so much!” This last year of teaching for Blackburn has been reinterpreted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Supt. Cristina Wright

Many young adults in our community have vivid memories of listening to stories of the Trail of Tears, creating totem poles, weaving “mug rugs” out of yarn, writing Civil War journals, creating an Underground Railroad quilt and writing with quill and ink. These experiences are rich with history but also in building empathy for the human condition - learning to think of the larger world rather than our personal struggles. Since 1992, Mrs. Suzanne Blackburn has made it her personal mission to help students experience the past in order to influence the future. Originally setting her course to work in the medical field, Mrs. Blackburn found early on that working with sick and injured children was too heavy on her heart. Rather, she chose to help provide children with a vision into their own goals and dreams through education.
Mrs. Blackburn began teaching in 1988 as a student teacher in Swansi, Wales, through a Southeast Missouri State University exchange program. From there, she taught fifth grade until 1992 in Salem, Mo. Later that same year, Mrs. Blackburn returned to her hometown of Licking to teach Adult Basic Education/Graduate Diploma in Education courses, coordinate Parents as Teachers and fill-in as a substitute teacher. In 1994, she continued in her role as PAT coordinator and added special education to her career portfolio. From 2001-2018, Mrs. Blackburn settled into the middle grades, fifth and sixth, teaching Communication Arts, American History, and World Cultures and Geography. These past two years, she has served as fourth grade teacher. Nearly as often as one would find Mrs. Blackburn in the classroom, though, she can be found out and about serving in her beloved community.
As Chamber of Commerce secretary and Rodeo Co-Chair, Mrs. Blackburn helps organize the annual rodeo and many other philanthropic endeavors. While working as Group Leader for the Wildcat Travel Club, she attends countless social events fundraising for students to travel internationally, witnessing history firsthand. On Sundays, many community members observe a day of rest, but not Mrs. Blackburn. She serves as religious education teacher and volunteer at St. John the Baptist Mission Church. She squeezes in time to work as Curator of Licking Milling Company and Board member of Licking Downtown, Inc., and ensures that we remember our fallen heroes by fundraising for the Memorial Park for Fallen Heroes and coordinating with the Commander of the Local Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion to support veterans’ affairs.
Although many volunteer efforts remain unlisted here, one program to which Mrs. Blackburn continues to devote significant time is “Mysteries in History,” an after school enrichment program during which approximately 70 students witness monumental moments from the past and participate in hands-on learning activities twice a week at no cost to families. When asked why she dedicates so much time to service to the community, Mrs. Blackburn shares her reflection that many students have never left Missouri or had an opportunity to experience history firsthand. “By seeing how people struggle in other places, it helps students see that we don’t all start with equal beginnings…it helps us all appreciate what we do have. I would love to see businesses come back to Licking so there are more activities for families, more things to do, here locally.”
Mrs. Blackburn recalls, “I remember when I first started teaching, there was really a focus on textbook learning. But there are always two sides of stories in history, the winning side which is usually the side the textbooks give, and the other side of the stories. I want my students to hear and discuss both sides of events in history so they understand and develop empathy for all people. I find if a student gets involved with history instead of just reading about it, they will retain the concept and want to learn more about the past.”
When asked what students will always remember about Mrs. Blackburn, they list academic answers – math, science, social studies and reading skills – but they remember her personal side as well. “I’ll always remember how we listened to Elvis in Mrs. Blackburn’s class! She REALLY loves Elvis!” or “Mrs. Blackburn loves horses and her family helps take care of them.”
The end of this school year has been a challenging one for any teacher, but it presents an extra tug on the heartstrings of Mrs. Blackburn who will finish her last year of full time teaching through distance-learning this May. While she is quick to recall mentor teachers, college instructors, friends and family members who have impacted her along the journey, Mrs. Blackburn shies away from recognition about the number of people she has inspired. While her work as an educator is legendary and her influence now spans two generations of students, Mrs. Blackburn continues to create a vision for the future of this community. Suzie Blackburn’s legacy maintains Licking, Mo., as a small town with a big heart.

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