Upper School Welcomes New Teachers

Six new teachers across four areas of study join community

New math teacher, Erin Oakley settles into her new classroom.

Noor Naseer

New math teacher, Erin Oakley settles into her new classroom.

Erin Oakley made the transition from the Blake Middle School Math Department to that of the Upper School. She’s ready to help students in Geometry and Honors Algebra 2 reach their “ohh, I get it!” moment, which she describes as “the most rewarding part of teaching.”

  She graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison and has taught in a number of different schools ranging in location from Washington DC to the Blake Middle School, where she taught for Paula Sadler last year. This is her fifth year teaching high schoolers. 

If you’re looking for Halloween costume ideas this October, Oakley has plenty of “really dorky and math pun-related” ideas at the ready, “like a geome-tree, or an octo-pi or a pi-rate.” This knack for comedy is also reflected in her “binge-worthy show” pick: Parks and Rec. 

Most importantly though, if you’re looking to improve your grade this year, Oakley’s favorite desserts are strawberry shortcake (when strawberries are in season)  and brownies. 


David Hallas was “planning on retiring”, but a last-minute job opportunity at Blake brought him to Minneapolis. As he puts it, “I saw the Blake job and I thought ‘hm, Minneapolis is pretty close [to Iowa,] so I just sort of started the process, and a week later I was a math teacher at Blake.’” This year, Hallas is teaching Calculus and AP Calc AB.

Elena Gill

Hallas says that for him, the most rewarding part about teaching is “connecting with other human beings and making a difference.”

Hallas has two dogs, one named Newton “because of Isaac Newton” and one named Elfred “because [his wife] thought he looked like a little elf, with his ears sticking out.” 

When asked about his music taste, Hallas describes himself as an “oldie guy, so [he] like[s] Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan… like Folk Rock kind of stuff.”

 Hallas shares that he taught Mac Miller during his 18-year tenure at the Winchester Thurston School, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also taught in Quincy, Illinois and Iowa City, Iowa. 

For calc students looking to score some extra points, his favorite dessert is key lime pie.


Chloe Lu’s passion for teaching stems from her love for her children. She says she discovered her love for education after she started teaching her kids at home. In her words, she “learned a lot of [English language and] culture with them” along with teaching them about her own Chinese culture. 

Elena Gill

Lu came to the United States from China, where she was formerly a TV and radio journalist. 

This year, Lu is teaching Chinese Two and Chinese Four, and she’s excited to teach at Blake because she can tell that students here “want to learn, so [she] feel[s] inspired.” For her, the most rewarding part of teaching is when her students conquer the assumption that Chinese is “so hard” and instead “feel like they’re learning” and are proud “that they’d be able to learn this hard language.” 

In her free time, Lu enjoys “cooking, traveling, fitness, and hiking mountains,” and she is into “crazy ice cream combinations” like cherry-chocolate.  If Lu could travel anywhere she hasn’t already been, she’d travel to South America and her top yogurt recommendation is authentic Beijing yogurt, which she claims is “the best.”


Matthew Dooley ‘06, is back and teaching American Literature and Literary Essay. Dooley was inspired to begin teaching by the great teachers he had during high school at Blake and at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. 

When describing the biggest reason he began teaching, Dooley said it was because “I had people who I really admired and wanted to be like them.” 

Dooley began teaching in January of 2013 at the High Mountain Institute in Colorado and continued his teaching journey at Animas High School in Colorado. 

Dooley was always interested in teaching the humanities, but he says that his favorite part of teaching English is how two different classes can look at the same passage and come to two totally different conclusions. He says “the two classes can either feel totally the same or completely different even though you’re both looking at the same thing.” 

If you see Dooley in the halls of the third floor, make sure to ask him about why he likes pulp in orange juice, his experiences at Blake as a state champion lacrosse player, or as an actor in Blake’s musicals.


Mackenzie Mcilmail started teaching thirteen years ago at Teach for America and later continued teaching across the east in Connecticut and Maryland. Most recently, Mcilmail taught at a Jewish international boarding school in North Carolina. 

Elena Gill

Mcilmail heard about Blake through being involved in the independent school world. She was attracted to Blake’s history curriculum and eventually made the move to Minnesota to teach AP US History and US History: Land, Power, and Wealth at Blake.

She views teaching as a form of social justice and feels that the most rewarding part of teaching is the relationships that she, as a teacher, forms with her students. She sums up her teaching experiences best when she says “I enjoy going to work everyday.” 

Mcilmail’s interest in Social Studies started young. She says, “I remember being in third grade and assigning myself research projects for fun.” She enjoys history’s relevance to today and says that it is “fun to see how history connects to what is happening now.” 


Deirdre Diggins is teaching Latin One, Latin Two, and Latin Readings this year. She started teaching right after graduating from Holy Cross College with a Classics degree and while attending Villanova University for her master’s degree. She first taught Latin at an independent school, filling in for another teacher who was on sabbatical. 

Elena Gill

Next, Diggins taught at Country Day School of the Sacred Hearts where she was the homeroom teacher for a fifth grade class of five girls. She took on a large role at this school and coached three sports: lacrosse, basketball and field hockey. 

Diggins described the origin of her teaching career as “baptism by fire.” Diggins was inspired to begin this “baptism by fire” after her professor told her that she would make a great teacher. 

Diggins has found the most rewarding part of teaching to be the connections she has made with students, which is why everything has been so worth it. The classics have always been a part of Diggins’ life because her mom always pushed Latin and all of her siblings are also Classics majors.