Squeezing the last few days out of a sweet summer with her husband and new baby, Waco High School math teacher and varsity tennis coach Kayla Stahl is preparing to start the school year. She’s positive, organized and has a caring, yet no-nonsense approach to work and life, which makes caring for her son, working out, meal planning, making her husband feel special and even sewing — all look effortless.
WACOAN: Does finding balance in your life come naturally for you or do you have to work for it?
Stahl: I would have to say a little bit of both. I can tell when I am not dedicating enough time toward myself, my husband, my baby — and then I make sure I set aside some of the day to change that.
WACOAN: You teach algebra II, some people’s most feared subject. Did you always want to be a math teacher and a tennis coach?
Stahl: I always knew I wanted to do something math-related. I really enjoyed my time in high school on the tennis team and my time at Baylor on the club team, so I also knew I wanted to continue playing in some capacity. My dad and both my brothers are all engineers, so I was considering a job as an engineer as well.
I chose the teacher route because I felt like it would be a fun job to do and I would love doing it. My dad told me to choose the job I thought I would be happiest doing and not because of the amount of money I would make, so I decided to become a teacher.
WACOAN: You and your husband are both teachers. Does he also coach?
Stahl: My husband, Michael, has been in Waco ISD his whole teaching career and is moving to China Spring this year. He did coach football for one year, but it was very time intensive and he didn’t like it. He also is teaching math (honors geometry and honors algebra II). We are excited to be teaching the same subject this year and like to collaborate with each other on what we are doing in class.
WACOAN: You had a baby in January! Describe how that’s changed your world, your perspective, your priorities.
Stahl: It’s hard to imagine my life without Jacob now. I can’t even find the words to describe how much I love him. He is most definitely one of my bigger priorities now and some things get put on the back burner until I get done taking care of him. He is a super great baby though and makes it easy for me to be a mommy along with everything else.
WACOAN: Do you have a relaxed approach to life or are you more high-strung? And do you have that same approach to motherhood?
Stahl: I am more of the relaxed kind of person. My husband and I are both the ‘Go with the flow’ type people. I feel like I have the same approach to motherhood, but I do plan a little bit more than I used to. For example, when I travel to San Antonio I try to leave when Jacob is going to take a nap as opposed to whenever I feel like it.
WACOAN: Do you think being on the same work schedule with Michael will be a plus or will the timing make it tricky, now that there’s Jacob in the mix of things?
Stahl: A little bit of both. During the summer we will both be off, so it will be a great time to take a vacation or spend some quality family time. During the school year, though, we will both be busy at the same time and will have to try and work around each other’s schedules.
WACOAN: How long did you take for maternity leave?
Stahl: I think I ended up taking eight weeks of maternity leave.
WACOAN: How hard was it going back to school? Did you ever consider not going back to work?
Stahl: The first day [back to school] was hard, but I had a really good schedule. I live very close to the school, so I would come home and see him during lunch. We also had family watch him the last two months of school so he didn’t have to start day care until he was older. That made me feel a lot better about leaving him because I knew he was in good hands. I was also really excited to see all my students again so that made it easier too.
WACOAN: How do you and Michael work together to manage the family household? Is he an equal participant in all things baby?
Stahl: I would not be able to do it without my husband. He is such a good father and is an equal participant in everything. He helps clean, cook, do night shifts, diapers. He deserves just as much recognition.
WACOAN: What do you think are his strengths or most valuable qualities when it comes to family?
Stahl: Michael is supportive, loving, helpful, a neat freak, motivating and protective.
WACOAN: Jacob is 7 months old now. Where will he be going during the day when school starts back up?
Stahl: Jacob will be attending Parkview Christian Childcare [Center].
WACOAN: How did you choose the place? What qualities were you looking for in day care?
Stahl: We really like the people working there. When we visited, all the children there were happy. When one of the little girls was leaving to go home, she ran and gave one of the workers a hug. They also had a great security system, and the building was very clean.
WACOAN: With a busy job and your mom responsibilities, what is your morning routine like?
Stahl: Michael also builds houses and leaves about 6:30 in the morning during the summer, so I wake up at 5 a.m. to go work out every morning. I do Orangetheory [Fitness] four times a week, and the other days I go to the gym. My husband and I go to the gym Saturday mornings so we can spend some time together. Jacob comes with us and likes to watch us lift weights. He is so good and makes it through our whole workout without fussing. We take turns cooking breakfast in the morning.
WACOAN: I guess the school morning routine is yet to be realized — but it is coming this month! Do you have any tips or tricks for making the morning routine run smoothly?
Stahl: I normally eat leftover dinner for lunch so I don’t have to get any of that together in the morning. I will probably pack my bag for work (change of clothes for tennis, water and snacks) the night before to cut back on some of the stuff we have to do in the morning.
WACOAN: Describe your typical workday. What do you spend most of your day doing? And does your job end when the last bell rings?
Stahl: I get to school between 7:30 to 8 [a.m.] for morning tutoring. The school day starts at 8:30. During the day, I try to stay productive. I make the lessons/copies for the next days during my off period so I can go home and see my baby as soon as possible. I have tennis practice for an hour every day after the bell rings except for Fridays. We also have team matches scattered throughout the fall after school and all-day tournaments during the spring.
WACOAN: Working with teenagers there surely are challenges. What are your biggest challenges?
Stahl: The biggest challenge I face is when students, particularly the ones with a lot of potential, let their talents go to waste. The ones that give up and refuse to attempt to learn the math are the most frustrating. They come into my class with the attitude that they don’t understand math now and never will, and it makes it very difficult to teach a kid with that kind of mindset.
The same goes for tennis. The most challenging players are the ones who go out and say, ‘Why should I try, I am going to lose anyway?’ I would much rather have less talent and more competitive spirit any day.
WACOAN: What’s the most rewarding part of working with teenagers?
Stahl: I really enjoy seeing my students a few years later and hearing about what they have been doing. I like hearing about how college is, their jobs, relationships. I love it when a student I taught becomes successful.
WACOAN: How do you balance the good days with the tough days?
Stahl: I really try not to dwell on the bad days and focus on the good ones. It takes so much energy and effort to stay mad and hold onto grudges. It also puts everyone else I am around in a sour mood as well. The saying ‘Misery loves company’ is so true. I would much rather focus that energy on staying positive. I find myself being happier and the people around me are also happier.
WACOAN: In what ways do you like to connect with your students and athletes beyond the classroom?
Stahl: I try to make myself available to my students as much as possible. I use the Remind app to stay in contact with them and [I also] get to school early for tutoring hours.
As for the tennis team, I think the best thing we started doing to become more connected is having team dinners. I host one of them at my house, and our team parents coordinate with each other to host other dinners. The kids really look forward to them, and I think it has helped our team become closer.
WACOAN: What’s the most important thing you want your students and athletes to learn from you?
Stahl: I want them to learn how to be happy. I think that if you know how to make yourself happy then it doesn’t matter what job you have or how much money you make. You will enjoy your life and be able to look back with no regrets.
WACOAN: Do you cook?
Stahl: I do cook! I normally plan and prep all our dinners. My husband takes turns cooking them though. We both enjoy eating very healthy so our diet consists of meat and veggies. We eat a lot of chicken.
WACOAN: What are some of your go-to dinners?
Stahl: Some of our favorites are fajita chicken salad, blackened chicken tacos (with chipotle mayo and mango pico de gallo on a corn tortilla) and pesto chicken topped with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. We also eat pork tenderloin a lot and use a sweet pork rub that makes it taste really good.
WACOAN: When do you find time to grocery shop? Do you enjoy it?
Stahl: I plan out our meals for the week every Sunday. I normally go to the grocery Sunday and get food up through Wednesday and then go Wednesday to get food through the weekend. I also clean and marinate all the meat after I get back from the grocery store so it is easy to cook for the rest of the week. It takes some time but it makes cooking dinner the rest of the week a piece of cake. I do enjoy going to H-E-B and so does Jacob. He likes looking at all the food and the lights so it makes grocery shopping easy.
WACOAN: What kind of calendar do you use?
Stahl: Paper calendar all the way. I have a huge desk calendar that I wouldn’t be able to live without.
WACOAN: What happens at your house when everyone is in bed and the house is finally quiet? Do you read, watch Netflix?
Stahl: We do a little bit of both. We have a Rottweiler named Jax and a German shepherd named Samantha, so some days we go train, walk or play with them. We both enjoy reading, and so when we have some good books we will read them before bed. We also watch TV some. We like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and HGTV.
WACOAN: I know your dogs are a big part of your life. How have they taken to Jacob?
Stahl: They are a huge part of our life and are starting to really like Jacob. At first, they were a little jealous, but now they lay with him and give him kisses. Jacob absolutely loves them, and Jacob always will try to roll toward them. They let him pull their fur and are so good with him. They make our lives so much better and more fun!
WACOAN: Since Jacob was born, have you and Michael had a chance to go out just the two of you? What do you like to do? How important is couple time for you two and why?
Stahl: We have gone out a lot. The main thing we like to do is work out together. Every Sunday morning his dad and stepmom watch Jacob and we go to Orangetheory together. We really enjoy pushing each other in the gym. We also like to go out to dinner, and we just recently have started getting into the Waco Civic Theatre plays.
I think couple time is very important. My husband is my No. 1 priority because I want to model having a good, caring relationship for my children. I think no matter how long you have been with someone, you still need to take that extra time to show them that you love them.
WACOAN: What about weekends? What do Saturday mornings look like for your family — pre-baby and now post-baby?
Stahl: Pre-baby on Saturday mornings we used to go to the gym, eat breakfast and take a nap. Post-baby on Saturday mornings we go to the gym with Jacob, eat breakfast, feed Jacob and take a nap with Jacob. We have been really lucky by having a baby that doesn’t make us change our schedule that much.
WACOAN: What kinds of things do you do for yourself to recharge?
Stahl: I work out all the time. I gained 40 pounds with my pregnancy and I have lost 37, so I am just about back to where I was. I was really determined to lose the weight quickly because we want to get pregnant again ASAP. I also like to read, mainly romance novels. ‘Harry Potter’ is my favorite book, though. I made my husband read it before I would date him. I also like to sew. I mainly sew quilts and Halloween costumes.
WACOAN: What are the most important lessons you think you’ll want to teach your son?
Stahl: I mainly want my son to be happy and healthy. We want him to be respectful, especially to his elders. We want him to be a well-rounded kid in school and extracurricular activities, whatever they may be. We want him to get involved and not be afraid to try new things.