Not everybody can point to a single experience that caused them to choose their career in life. Often, the choice is made over a long period of time or by a stroke of luck. For Second Grade Teacher Sarah Pulliam, recognized as the Farmington School District’s Featured Teacher of March, she can recall the day that made her decide to become a teacher.
“I was in high school,” she recalled. “I was on a completely different path. My high school biology class took a field trip, and we took mini-classes of kindergarteners to the park and did all these activities. I remember thinking, ‘You know what? I think this is where I belong.’
“I was already enrolled in a different degree program and I totally changed my mind, almost entirely based on that day. I have a lot of varied interests and I look back and wonder if that was really what I should have done, but I love my kids, so this is where I belong.”
Pulliam, now in her 19th year of teaching, said one of her favorite parts of being a teacher is identifying each student’s unique skills and working with them to overcome hurdles.
“It’s really exciting to see a child that is struggling finally get an understanding of what they’re doing,” she said. “The lightbulbs go off and they get really excited, which makes me really excited. It’s amazing—every child in here has a different gift to give. It’s nice to try and help them discover that, foster it and develop it.”
An alum of Central Methodist University, Pulliam has spent her entire career serving the students of the Farmington School District. She has taught special services for six years, third grade for a year and will be wrapping up her 12th year teaching second grade in May.
In the 19 years she has been a teacher, she has seen firsthand the many cultural and technological changes exemplified by her students.
“A lot has changed,” she said. “Kids are different. They’re in a new generation and their needs are different, so the way we meet their needs is different. We change our teaching style and, of course, we implement a lot more technology now than we ever have before.
“But kids still need stuff in their hands. They need books, manipulatives, blocks or to do coloring with their hands. But they can also use technology in ways that you and I didn’t learn until we were way older.”
An exciting aspect of the rapid changing face of technology for Pulliam is the idea that many of her students may one day work in careers that don’t even exist yet. To stay ahead of the curve as much as is possible, Pulliam said the district provides a lot of professional development for teachers.
“We do a lot of professional development,” she said. “I’m still taking classes. I’ll probably never be finished. For example, I have a college class tonight. The focus of the class is instructional strategies, especially with behaviors of kids—how their needs are changing because families look different and the way they live is different than in the past, which makes our approach different.”
In addition to her role in the classroom, Pulliam has worked on many curriculum committees, is a literacy leader at Jefferson Elementary, has served on behavior committees and was a part of Southeast Missouri State University’s Collaborative Works Project for four years.
“Our district has a lot of resources, so we get a lot of professional development,” she said. “Not every district is like that. So when you’re involved with something like the Collaborative Works Project, you can see what other districts have and you can learn from each other.”
As for what will come next for Pulliam—she said she has considered other roles in the district, such as library science or counseling, but has not decided if she will leave second grade.
“I may just stay in second grade,” she said. “It took me like three years to really ‘get’ second graders. It’s amazing, because I’ve done lots of different grade levels and each one is really unique. After the second or third year, it was like, ‘Oh—this is how second graders are!’ And I totally changed my approach.”
While working with her students are a major passion in her life, she said her time is also largely devoted to her family and her faith.
“I love working with my students,” she said. “I love being with my family, my husband and two girls. We spend a lot of our time just doing things that interest our little unit. We’re on the go all the time with our girls and going things that they like. We’re just trying to serve God and serve each other.”