The correction of the courses is paying for Vaquer, the students

GUYTON — The long arm of the law couldn’t maintain its grip on Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Vaquer. She walked away from it at a critical time in her life.

Vaquer chose to give up the pursuit of a law degree in favor of a career in education when she was an undergraduate student at Georgia Southern University. The decision paid off for her and the students at South Effingham High School.

Vaquer was recently named District Teacher of the Year by the Effingham County School District.

“It feels good to be honored by anyone, but especially by your peers,” Vaquer said. “You feel like you know what they’re talking about, that they really understand the job and know what it takes. It means a lot.”

Vaquer, a native of Savannah, began her teaching career at South Effingham Middle School. She served there for three years before moving to the adjacent high school.

“I’ve been a Mustang for eighteen years,” she said. “I have no intention of going anywhere.”

Vaquer’s change of school was prompted by a desire to teach older students.

“My intention was always to teach high school English,” she said.

In fact, Vaquer had other intentions when she was a child.

“I would take all of my mom’s office supplies and line them up,” Vaquer said. “I had a little blackboard and taught my Barbie dolls, but I wanted to be a lawyer. That’s why I majored in English.

Eventually his desire to teach overwhelmed his desire for the law.

“I was a little older, 30, when I started (teaching), but here we are,” Vaquer said. “I love that.”

Vaquer teaches regular English to 10th graders and AP English to seniors. The class for senior students focuses on literature.

“When you can hear them talking to each other about a piece outside of homework – a poem or a book we just read – it shows me that they’ve fallen in love with something, that’s the reason for which I started teaching,” Vaquer said. “The main reason was the love of the material. Another worthwhile thing is when I have long-time graduate students contacting me and saying, “Hey, I heard this poem and it reminded me of you” or “J write poetry now in my spare time and just got published in a journal.

“To think that I had a piece of that – to create a love for literature – is the greatest reward.”

Vaquer has an affinity with the work of TS Eliot (1888-1965). His favorite is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.

“I’m teaching it right now. I try to teach it every year,” she said. “When the kids first read it, they were like, ‘What is this? Doesn’t this make any sense?’ In the end, however, they love it.

Recently Vaquer has been reading novels by John Steinbeck (1902-1968).

“Right now. I’m in love with him,” she said.

Vaquez is an impressive wordsmith herself. This was evident in his quote published in the program for the Effingham County School District’s Teacher of the Year Banquet held at the New Ebenezer Retreat Center on November 2.

“Educators are seen as keepers of the fire who transmit knowledge and understanding to rising generations,” she said. “We tend to the fire, we spread the coals, we supply the oxygen the flames need to burn brightly.”

Vaquer worries about the impact of texting on language. Her penchant for replacing descriptive phrases with symbols, emojis and short sentences bothers her.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I appreciate it for what it is because language evolves and it’s like a living thing, but I don’t think it should replace what language has always been. I fear that is what is happening.

Other Effingham County School District Teachers of the Year include Kristine Bothwell (Blandford Elementary School), Sara Kieffer (Ebenezer Elementary School), Sarah Crapse (Guyton Elementary School), Ginger Lupton (Marlow Elementary School), Terry Douberley (Rincon Elementary School), Justin Saturday (Sand Hill Elementary School), Morgan Davis (South Effingham Elementary School), Kayla Knight (Springfield Elementary School), Leah Perkins (Effingham Middle School), Crystal Washington (Ebenezer Middle School), Emily McClure (South Effingham Middle School), Jennifer Hayes (Effingham County High School), Amanda Conner (Effingham College & Career Academy), Tiffany Gay (Crossroads Academy), and Annmarie Avila (enCompass Academy.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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