Teaching has always been a puzzle that Sarah has tried to better understand. She is currently studying teacher longevity in her doctoral program at Mercer University, where she is a third-year student. The question she is asking is, what motivates teachers to stay in the classroom for 10, 20, or 30 years? Statistics show that 60% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. She hopes to uncover the secret for why they stay, but part of it she feels she understands just from being a teacher at GAC, where the teacher retention rate is much higher than in public schools. “All the teachers have very high efficacy at GAC. This is in part because they know they can make a difference. You can walk into every single teacher’s classroom and hear them praising or thanking a student. That is not something I had witnessed as a collective front elsewhere.”
Sarah is a “yes teacher”, making her the kind of teacher you wish you had. She is always willing to try new things, especially if it means her students can benefit. While the students might get the same mini-lesson in a math class one day, the lesson application will look a little different depending on which group the student is in. Because of the placement testing Sarah regularly conducts, she is able to tailor each activity, getting each student the exposure they need based on their strengths and weaknesses. “Testing and data are important, but they are just one measure. The mission of GAC gets at the whole child, not just test scores. That is so unique here.” Also unique is the way in which academic rigor and moral development are enmeshed. “One of the most meaningful aspects about teaching at GAC is watching the students apply the moral development skills we learn during Bible throughout the school day. You are able to see students working in their math center and collaborating with their peers and showing respect. That is equally important and as rewarding as seeing them grow academically.”
Sarah’s teaching range is remarkable, as she has worked with students who were at risk of not meeting state standards; special education students; gifted students in the International Baccalaureate program; and students in the lower and upper elementary grades. “I have loved all of the experiences I’ve been given. While I think the classroom is where I will make the most impact, a very long-term goal would be writing curricula and helping teachers write and implement curriculum to their advantage. Lots of teachers are given curriculum and they don’t know how to adapt it to meet their needs or their students' needs.” Sarah has extensive experience with curriculum integration and even has a Project WILD certification. This is a program produced by UGA that helps teachers learn how to incorporate STEM and STEAM activities into everyday learning experiences.
Service outside the classroom has been a big part of Sarah’s life. “As a student, I volunteered with the YMCA as an office assistant. I worked for Graceway Recovery Residence, a women’s crisis center. I probably volunteered for 200 hours while also being in school.” Sarah has continued to volunteer long after her college days; she and her husband have served for years in the infant to Pre-K program at Buckhead Church and as small group leaders for newly married couples. Service will always be a part of her life, and whether it’s at her church or in the classroom, Sarah knows she’s found a place where she can be her true self.