As 500 new Richardson ISD teachers prepare to welcome their charges on the first day of school Monday, one Lake Highlands Junior High teacher stands out from the recent college grads.
She may be an RISD rookie, but Erin Blaydes Anderson has spent lots of time in LH classrooms.
Anderson, who will teach 7th grade science at LHJH, attended the school during her own 7-9th grade years, long before the Lake Highlands Freshman Center was built and folded into LHHS. Son Jacob, entering 7th grade, will be in the building with her, and her older kids, Austin and Sara, attended LHJH, too.
Anderson admits becoming a junior high science teacher is the last thing she expected when she was a Wildcat herself.
“If you had told me in junior high that I would go back to junior high, I would have laughed, then cried, then punched you,” Anderson told me. “I was a square-peg-in-a-round-hole kind of kid – awkward socially, not part of the cool crowd. There were teachers, God love ‘em, who got me through those days. I was a choir kid, and I probably ate lunch in the choir room with [late choir director] Michael O’Hern 4-5 days a week because that’s where I felt safe and included. [Coach] Kathy Barley kept us laughing and saw us as human beings. She knew we needed to blow off steam sometimes, and sometimes we needed to cry. She was a true friend of the junior high girl. Jean Wyatt and Terry Hamm were our student council sponsors and taught us ‘people tend to support that which they had a hand in creating.’ They built confidence in us and what we have to offer the world.”
At LHHS, Anderson recalls the day during senior year when Sue Passmore, one of LH’s first and most beloved teachers, insisted Anderson sit on her lap for an old-fashioned hug.
“We all have those days, and she could see I was blue. She made me tell her what was going wrong. She loved on the awkward kids – loved on every kid – and saw us as her own.”
Anderson’s career has been a country quilt of seemingly unrelated jobs, including therapy aide, corporate event planner and tech company employee. Most recently, she worked on a master’s degree while teaching pre-school at CCDC, Christian Childhood Development Center at Lake Highlands United Methodist Church.
“I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades, a consummate lifelong learner. I had all these different jobs – and loved them all – but when I started teaching at CCDC, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved getting out of bed every day to go to work.
“People say, ‘You’re going from pre-school to junior high. That’s a big jump,’ but they’re not that different,” says Anderson. “Seventh graders are going to a new building with new friends and a big increase in expectations. They are learning how to be organized. Nobody knows what to do with their hands and feet.
“I’ve already had two kids go through that as a mom, and I’ve seen how kids struggle with the transition. Some kids fly through, and others struggle. I want to be the teacher who understands that you have to hold them accountable, have high expectations, but these kids need so much grace. They need someone to come alongside them and encourage them.”
Anderson understands, too, that you can’t invite a downtrodden 7th grader to sit in your lap these days and give them a much-needed hug.
“No you absolutely can’t, but you can offer grace when they show up with a late paper. I can open my classroom for lunch. I have a heart for that struggling student.”
Anderson describes herself as a “goody-two-shoes” during her days at LHJH and LHHS and has fond memories of volunteering with Girls Service League and performing in school musicals and Espree shows. On Friday nights, she could be found at Wildcat football games listening to her dad, Bill Blaydes, then the “Voice of the Wildcats.” He later represented LH as a Dallas City Councilmember.
“It was great,” said Anderson. “He had this deep booming voice, and my friends would say, ‘I wouldn’t want him to be mad at me. I was totally proud of him.”
Anderson’s message for her incoming students is not much different from the one she had for her kids at CCDC – expect to have fun.
“We’ll learn through play,” says Anderson. “We won’t be in our desks much. We will have a lab every week and we will be working with our hands. We’ll look at all the different career possibilities and the ways science improves our lives – hot topics like global warming and biodiversity, and we have LHJH students who are refugees from Burma to learn from about how our worlds are linked even though we’re on opposite sides of the planet. It’s going to be fun.”
School begins for all of Richardson ISD on Monday, Aug. 21.