The Florida Times-Union published the following story by Beth Reese Cravey about 2019 Florida Blue Duval County Teacher of the Year, Sarah Pasion.
As a child in her native Philippines, Sarah Pasion always took the teacher role when she and her young cousins played teacher and students in a pretend classroom. Now a 15-year veteran educator in Jacksonville, she was named the 2019 Florida Blue Duval County Teacher of the Year.
Pasion, a fourth-grade teacher at Sadie T. Tillis Elementary School, was the top winner late Friday at the 28th annual EDDY Awards hosted by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. Of about 8,300 teachers in Duval County Public Schools, 182 of them were nominated by their schools for this year’s award and 15 were named semifinalists.
The other four finalists were Nakeisha Tinsley of Matthew Gilbert Middle School, Danisha Love of Raines High School, Rachel Duff of DuPont Middle School and Joshua Diaz of Hogan-Spring Glen Elementary School.
Pasion, 39, receives a $4,000 cash award and will compete for the state title. Other finalists get $2,500 cash prizes, as well as $500 classroom grants, from Rotary Clubs of Jacksonville.
As this year’s top teacher, Pasion wrote in her Teacher of the Year application, she would work to inspire other educators to “seize the day,” just like she tried to do with her cousins. Their excitement when they would have pretend graduations “led me to a realization that I shouldn’t stop in achieving my goal of becoming an educator. I would seize the day because I love to educate, motivate and reward students,” she wrote.
“Nowadays teachers are facing challenges and injustices in teaching. ‘How do I stay in the field of education? How do I stay energized and excited in teaching my lesson, conferencing with parents, meetings, changing curriculum, differentiating instructions, analyzing data ... ?’ I just remember the day when I and my cousins were playing like teacher and students. I seized the day of learning with them, having fun by doing some exiting and motivating activities,” she wrote.
Superintendent Diana Greene said she “could not be more impressed” with Pasion’s skills in the classroom and devotion to her students.
“Ms. Pasion is a truly exemplary educator who not only expertly helps her fourth-graders connect the dots in math class, but — like all great educators — helps them connect the dots to a lifetime of learning and achievement,” she said.
Fund President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune said Pasion “exemplifies the excellence and dedication of so many teachers in Duval County.”
“She does extraordinary work in the classroom and as a teacher leader in our school district ... helping create a bright future for our children,” she said.
They credited Pasion for helping Sadie T. Tillis Elementary improve its school grade from an F to a C by, among other things, personalizing instruction for each student and mentoring other teachers.
In her math classroom instruction, she uses an approach called “productive talk.” Students question each other’s thinking and gauge each other’s level of understanding, all to promote language and critical thinking skills.
“I ... like to engage all the students in conversations that can help them to understand mathematical concepts,” she wrote. “My students are doing so well ... turning and talking, questioning each other. They get excited when they agree or disagree with their ideas on which is a more effective and efficient strategy.”
They compliment each other’s work and give some suggestions on methods to improve.
“Productive talk helps me to create formative assessment for my students. I can check explicitly what they do understand and what they don’t understand. This leads me to develop meaningful lessons that meet the needs of students,” she wrote.
Pasion encourages students to work cooperatively in group problem solving, which also helps them develop social skills.
“I am just hoping to improve more on having students’ working together in a group. Due to the students’ different personalities and culture, some of them are having difficulty of working with one another,” she wrote. “There are times that multicultural students are only comfortable working with multicultural students. I will not stop ... instilling in them that working in a team will always produce a better result than working alone.”
Some of her students are becoming bilingual in science and their native languages.
“Though I’m a product of a different cultural background and values, and from the other part of the globe, I will always strive to motivate and engage all the students of different races in learning than simply accepting that they are destined to do poorly,” she wrote.
When she mentors other teachers, Pasion first builds a strong relationship with them. They observe her lessons and take notes, then she observes their lessons and provides feedback. Also, she shares helpful websites, instructional materials and other professional resources.
The reward, she said, is when she sees her “teacher-leader role shape the culture of our school and improve students’ learning.”
Lilian Munoz, one of Pasion’s fourth-grade students, sent the Teacher of the Year selection committee a recommendation letter for her teacher. She wrote that Pasion has established a “respectful learning community” in her classroom.
“She has a higher expectation for us. She is serious about our education. She wants us to succeed in our life,” Lilian wrote. “She makes the work exciting and very interesting to us. She makes the lesson easy if it is hard. ... She knows what she’s teaching!”
Lilian said Pasion can handle disruptive students as well.
“She knows how to set them straight. She just never sends bad kids to the office. She tells them to stop and think, reflect and change their behavior,” she wrote. “She teaches them to be good. She has a pretty good class if you ask me.”