of Kenai knew what she
wanted to do in life at a young age.
"I think I taught all my life," she
said."There were a couple boys across the street when I was young.We would gather at each other's house and I was always teacher." Banks'
first classroom teaching experience came at the ripe old age of first grade.
"The teacher went home ill and left me in charge," she
said."It was my first real job.I took over, and I think I did a good job.We finished our lessons, and I took down the names of the children who didn't behave."
school years, Iola
was always the teacher's helper.When she was a senior, she served as a teacher's assistant in her algebra class.
The teacher was a reverend who taught at two different schools, so he
wasn't always prepared for class, she
If the students ran into a problem they had trouble with, Iola
took it home and worked on it until she
could solve it, then brought the answer back to class the next day -- although her
enthusiasm sometimes got her
"When he'd call on people for the answer I would have my hand up there and blurt out the answer," she
said."He'd say, 'Hush, girl!'"
did everything from teach lessons to grade papers.
"The year I graduated, the reverend retired," she
experience with that teacher, Iola
learned to encourage kids to speak out.
"I will never use the word 'hush' with the children because I remember it from my days," she
Even though she
started playing teacher when she
was young, Iola's life took a different path before she
took up education as a career.She
grew up in Hodge, La., with her
parents and three sisters.She
always knew she
wanted to go to college, and her
father, in particular, told his
kids education was important, she
said. When Iola graduated from high school, she got a scholarship to attend Grambling State University in Grambling, La.She
started out studying business.At that point she wanted to get a degree in math, but changed her mind after walking in to the math classroom and finding it full of boys. She
summers as a waitress in Denver, where her
sisters had moved.She
wages home to her
mother and lived off her
tips, staying with her
sisters.One summer evening she
and a friend went out dancing and met two young men, one of whom would be her
future husband, Lovell Banks
friend a ride home that evening and called Iola
the next night to ask her
out on a date.On their third date he
proposed, although he
would deny that he
did it so soon, she
asked me to marry him, and I didn't want to so I said 'No, I'm not ready,'" she
said."But to make a long story short, we got married."
The two were married Oct. 8, 1954, when they were both 21.They lived in Denver and had four children there.Iola
was pregnant during most of the time they were in Denver, she
said, so she
took some classes in nursing as a way to better take care of herself.From those classes, she
got a job at Colorado Medical School
and started thinking seriously of attending medical school herself. Lovell
was in the U.S. Air Force
and was transferred to Texas in 1961.The family moved and Iola enrolled in a nursing program at San Antonio College and began working as a practical nurse at a Catholic hospital.
could graduate, Lovell
was transferred to Eielson Air Force Base and the family moved to Fairbanks in 1965.
It was in Alaska that Iola
became reacquainted with her
love for teaching. She worked as a nurse when she first arrived and was supposed to take classes to finish her nursing degree.
Before doing so, though, she
heard the school district allowed people to substitute teach for 20 days at a time with only two years of college. She
applied for a substitute teaching job, came home that night and prayed to get it.
"I said, "If I just get two days a month in teaching than I'll give up nursing.' And I got all the work I needed." Iola
was hired to take over a fourth-grade class in North Pole.She
dropped nursing altogether and concentrated on teaching and taking adult education classes.
Nursing had been a convenient occupation for her
, since she
could work at night while Lovell
watched the kids, but teaching was her
There was one experience in particular that convinced her
"I had a lady come in and she
was very sick.Somehow you think if you work your hardest you're going to save them.I worked my hardest and she
died.I was crying and one of the doctors said, 'Sometimes you do all you can do and the patient dies.' One thing with children is they learn, they don't die.I liked that a lot better."
The principal met with Iola
and told her he
belonged in teaching.He wrote a letter to the superintendent on her behalf and promised her if she went back to school and got a degree in education, the school would give her a job. Iola attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks and got a degree in elementary education in 1967.
From there she
was hired as an aide in a second-grade class, but ended up teaching the class.
This was yet another learning experience for her
"I went to a segregated school in Louisiana and I had all these notions about children," she
said."I had a concern that all people from other races were probably prejudiced, and I wasn't too interested in working with people like that.But kids have their own ideas."
During one class, the students were playing "The Farmer in the Dell
," and a little blonde girl played the mother who chose the son.
"When the girl took a husband she
got another Caucasian," Iola
said."Then when she
chose a son she
chose a black boy. ...It taught me children are not naturally prejudiced, they are taught it."
At the end of that school year, Lovell
was transferred to Springfield, Mass., so the family moved again.Iola
got a job teaching fourth grade. She
had one student who stayed up late at night and came to class tired, not ready to do his
"I told him, 'You will get your assignment done or you will not leave here' and I stood at the door and started grading papers at the end of the day," Iola
The boy was stubborn and sat there until his
mother showed up a while later.Once Iola
explained the situation, the boy's mother told him to get to work and she'd be back later to pick him up.
"With children you have to be strict sometimes and you can't let them tell you what they're going to do or they will come to class and sleep," she
While the family stayed in Springfield, Lovell
served a tour of duty in Vietnam.After he
was transferred back to Alaska.
"I didn't really want to come here because I had gotten so attached to my (school) children," Iola
said."I didn't think I could love any kids as much as the ones I had in Massachusetts.But children are children, and I loved every class." Lovell
was assigned to Wildwood Air Force Station, so the family moved to Kenai.Iola got a job teaching sixth grade at Kenai Elementary that year, now the Boys and Girls Club building.
The next year she
moved on to Soldotna Elementary and spent five years teaching fifth grade.Next she
transferred to Sears Elementary in Kenai and taught fourth grade for a year.From there she went back to teaching fourth grade at Kenai Elementary for several years, she said.
Once Mountain View Elementary was built in 1988, Iola
taught fourth grade there until her
health forced her
to retire in 1990. Iola
was very involved with her
classes in Kenai and Soldotna.She
always made a big deal over holidays and took the kids on as many field trips as she
If a student in her
class seemed to be interested in a particular occupation or subject, she
wouldn't rest until she
could organize a field trip that would play into that interest.
"I remember (Iola) was strict but fair," Bagley