“Everybody has a battle,” Blanks said, “whether it's cancer or problems at home or whatever. It was my desire to encourage my kids to look outside themselves and realize there is more to life than what's going on in their lives. I wanted them to learn to be compassionate and communicate. I wanted them to know it's okay to struggle and it's okay to lean on someone when you're fighting your own battles.”
Originally from Cincinnati, Blanks moved to the area as a college student. She attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she majored in biology and played on the volleyball team. After college, in 2001, she got a job coaching and teaching at Ringgold Middle School. A self-described “science geek,” Blanks said she's loved science since she was a little girl.
“I was the nerdy girl with the full anatomical poster on my bedroom wall,” Blanks said, “the one with all the tissues and organs. I think that's why I fit in so well with the Horizon kids. We tend to think outside the box.”
Asked about her reaction to receiving the county award, Blanks said it was wonderful and emotional, especially after all she had been through. She spent the entire academic year fighting stage three breast cancer, which involved chemotherapy, a mastectomy over Christmas break and six weeks of radiation.
“When I was chosen for Ringgold Middle's Teacher of the Year last May, I was in the middle of a battle,” Blanks said. “It was a long and scary process, but at the end of the year, I was still alive. You can't imagine the impact it had on all of us.”
Blanks said she passed out cards all year that read “He's bigger than the battle!” to remind herself as well as others to trust and rely on God. She said they even had T-shirts printed with the quote to spread the message and help them stay positive.
Each of the 17 Catoosa County schools chooses a Teacher of the Year at the end of each school year in May. All recipients are then compiled and reviewed by faculty and a teacher is chosen to represent the county.
“Getting the county award is such an honor,” Blanks said, “because it's nice to know your peers think so much of you. But I want people to know this is definitely something I share with my students. You have to have really good students to bring out the best in you. I didn't do anything different this year than I've done in the past; this is just the year I overcame a huge obstacle. The kids were so amazing, the teachers rallied around me and it brought out the absolute best in everybody.”
Always an athlete at heart, Blanks combined her passion and her battle and walked the “Rally for the Cure” race after being diagnosed last year. She also walked this year as a survivor. She said she was a little sad at first because she didn't have any family nearby to support her, but her students surprised her and showed up to walk with her.
“They are so precious,” Blanks said. “They love me so much, and I love them. It's been a powerful year. My prayer is that when they are faced with struggles in the future, they’ll remember this year. They can choose any route…any attitude… when life gets tough. I hope they choose joy.”