When you think of fifth grade math, you don’t necessarily think of hardhats.

In the back of Emily Long’s sun-filled classroom on the Thomas J. Rusk Elementary campus, sits a table full of neatly stacked hardhats and safety glasses. These items aren’t used for a dangerous project but for an activity called “Fixer Upper” where the students break down and correct tests.

This isn’t the only innovative technique Long has implemented in her teaching. She has also tied math and sports together by making a black-light bowling alley and miniature golf course in her classroom. Her students also have played a math version of gameshow “The Price is Right.” All of these innovations create lasting memories for students and Long.

“Teaching, for the most part, has completely changed from probably what we experienced growing up. It’s no longer just handing a child a worksheet,” Long said. “I gave 70 kids everything that I had to make every one of those kids feel important in my classroom.”

Long has been an educator for seven and a half years and is in her fourth year at TJR and fifth year with the district. As a Nacogdoches native, Long has spent a lot of time on district campuses as a student and teacher. To start her career, she decided not to return home after graduating from Texas State University. Instead, she moved to Anchorage, Alaska, to teach.

“It was a huge transition,” Long said. “I don’t have any family in Alaska. It was just kind of an adventure. It presented itself at a job fair that my university did, and I thought, ‘you know, I’m young; when will I ever be able to pick up everything and move?’ So I did it.”

Long taught life skills in the special education department to people who most likely wouldn’t live on their own after high school.

Long recounts the ice days that Alaska faces that aren’t so common here in East Texas, as well as the friendly people and the full-sized lockers that students stuffed their snow skis in. She recalls one of her favorite memories as a teacher when one of her student’s dad took their class on a plane flight over Denali—the highest mountain peak in America.

She comes from a long line of teachers and credits her family for being her biggest influence. However, teaching wasn’t always the plan.

“It sounds really bad, but I had no idea what I wanted to do when I went into college,” Long said. “My mom’s a teacher, my aunt’s a teacher, I like school, and always played school with stuffed animals and all that kind of stuff. So I fell into it, but wasn’t something from the beginning ‘I always wanted to be a teacher.’”

Now, Long continues to make memories for her students through innovative teaching methods, and says that is what’s most important for her.

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