Protagonists: Jenny Blue

The Protagonists series highlights the main characters of our mission: the teachers out there hustling to make their students feel known, heard, and challenged through student-led discussion.

Jennifer Blue, Chair of English at Kimball Union Academy

Hometown I live in Cornish, NH. I grew up in Marquette, MI. 

Favorite teacher growing up: who and why? I grew up dancing and I would say that I had a couple of favorite classroom teachers, but my dance teachers were my favorite. They were a married couple, this was after my family moved to New Hampshire, and they were gifted teachers. I also had a really special English teacher in high school who taught me a lot about writing.

Describe yourself as a student in three words: driven, curious, and goal-oriented. 

Current City, School, Teaching Assignments (?): I’m the chair of the English Department at Kimball Union Academy. Next year I’ll teach all of the 9th graders. I teach honors juniors and an interdisciplinary class. I’m also an advisor, and my evening responsibility is in the library. 

Favorite historical figure (or best line from history?) Right now I’m interested in Margaret Fuller. I love teaching the 1850s in American literature. We’re restructuring our junior year class around “Voices of Dissent,” and I can’t wait to draw her into that class as a transcendentalist and early feminist. 

Favorite literary character (or best line from a novel?) I just finished reading The Hate You Give and I love Starr. I love Jane Eyre. I’ve read the book many times, the last time with my daughter, and she’s just amazing; I think about her a lot. I also love Patty Berglund in Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. She sees herself as “the wife” and becomes her own independent character. 

Favorite school supply? I love those giant paper clips. I also love dry erase markers. Not a fan of giant post-it notes, though. Also, I used to love these Pilot V5 extra fine felt tip pens, any color but red, but now I don’t mark up student writing on paper. 

Pet peeve about class (student-led?) discussion? The glance towards the clock. 

Favorite moment of class discussion? I love the silence when we’re all together in a moment when someone’s said something that really lands. It’s an ineffable presence, not even contained in a voice. We’re all considering or holding something together — it’s that intimate kind of silence where you don’t need to speak. I teach for those kinds of moments. 

Biggest challenge to good discussion in a virtual classroom? The silence that feels healthy or fruitful in a classroom feels like dead space in a Zoom call. It’s so different. For me, that was significant. It put me into this performative position where I had to call students out or put them on the spot, and I had to explain that to students, and it was very different. It fell on me to fill the silence, and I don’t feel that pressure in the classroom space. 

Text you count on to inspire conversation? “The Pomegranate” by Eavan Boland. It works well with parent groups, too. It’s just a gorgeous poem about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, what it means to grow up and let go. Same for “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes. 

What do you nerd out about? Food and cooking, especially cooking with local foods. The garden’s going crazy right now! Also, dance. With my dancer friends, we just talk non-stop about choreographers and dancers that we love. 

What is your wish for this world? I think being open to the possibility of change. Letting go of prior definitions of ourselves. Looking at a destruction of a lot of what we know as also an opening, an opportunity to be something different. I hope that people, my students, are willing and trusting enough to hold me to a high standard and be critical when I don’t reach that standard, especially with race and equity. 

When historians recount 2020, what will they be especially fascinated by? The thing that comes to mind right now, in this moment, is the capacity that people have for denial. Constructing a version of reality that is contrary to empirical or scientific reality. The degree to which illusion is seductive — people would rather believe something that isn’t true but is positive over the harder truth. 

One prediction for the future of schools? I hope that they become more student-driven and more student-centered. I would love for students to feel greater ownership over their education. 

Best advice given to you by a department chair or supervisor? “Progress, rather than perfection” is a good one. 

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