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Course correction pays off for Vaquer, students
SEHS teacher considered law career
Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Vaquer
Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Vaquer opted to become a teacher while attending Georgia Southern University. She has been at South Effingham High School for 15 years. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

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

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

Vaquer was recently named the Effingham County School District’s district teacher of the year.

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

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

“I’ve been a Mustang for eighteen years,” she said. “I don’t have any plans to go anywhere.”

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

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

Actually, Vaquer had other intentions when she was a child.

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

Eventually, her desire to teach overwhelmed her longing for the law.

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

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

“When you can hear them talking to each other about a piece outside of an assignment — a poem or a book we just read — that shows me that they have fallen in love with something, which is the reason I started to teach,” Vaquer said. “The driving reason was the love of the material. Another thing that makes it so worthwhile is when I have students who have long since graduated reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I heard this poem and it made me think of you,’ or, ‘I am writing poetry now in my free time and I was just published in a journal.’

“To think that I had any part of that — to create a love for literature — is the greatest reward.”

Vaquer has an affinity for the works of T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). Her 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 are like, ‘What is this? It makes no sense?’ By the end of it, though, they love it.”

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

“Right now. I am enamored with him,” she said.

Vaquez is an impressive wordsmith herself. That was evident in her quote published in the program for the Effingham County School District Teacher of the Year Banquet conducted at New Ebenezer Retreat Center on Nov. 2.

“Educators are considered to be guardians of the fire who pass knowledge and understanding on to the rising generations,” she said. “We tend to the fire, we spread the coals, we feed the oxygen the flames need to burn brightly.”

Vaquer is concerned about the impact texting is having on language. Its penchant for replacing descriptive sentences with symbols, emojis and short phrases bothers her.

“It is frustrating,” she said. “I appreciate it for what it is since 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.”

The Effingham County School District’s other teachers of the year are 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.