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Written By

Hannah Macri

College

College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

14 January 2021

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Discovering a passion for teaching

When JCU alumni Sarah Del Favero first began studying Education at JCU, she wasn’t sure it was meant for her. After falling in love with teaching and discovering a passion for helping kids learn, Sarah’s work in the classroom has earned her a top spot among teachers.

In the Cairns Post’s recent poll seeking to find Cairns’ top teachers, educators from around the region were nominated to be recognised for their hard work and dedication to education. With a shortlist of 50 teachers and a nominee list of dozens more, one of Whitfield State School’s Prep teachers stood out among her peers and was pushed to the top.

Although she is honoured to have been voted Cairns’ Top Teacher, Sarah is quick to point out that education is a collective effort. “There are so many inspirational teachers I work with that I would have said should be North Queensland’s top teacher!” Sarah says.

Sarah began her teaching career at Whitfield State School in 2018 and thrived with the opportunity to encourage her students’ learning and creativity. However, it wasn’t so long ago that Sarah wasn’t sure she was suited to being a teacher.

“When I walked into my first uni lecture, I had no idea if studying education was the right choice for me,” Sarah says. “I remember the lecturer told us to discuss with a partner why we had chosen to study education and I had a mini existential crisis. But with every practicum I went on, I fell more in love with teaching.”

The practical opportunities Sarah had throughout her studies not only showed her that she had found the right fit, but also prepared her for her future.

“I adored any of the subjects where I could let my artistic side shine and be creative with what we were learning,” Sarah says. “And I absolutely loved going on my practicums, even though each time was equally terrifying! That feeling doesn’t go away, either. It’s the same at the beginning of each year meeting new parents and children.”

Creating space to learn, grow, and shine

With a musical background as a singer and a fiddler, Sarah’s creative streak shines through into her teaching. To provide her students with a space where they can let their creativity flow, Sarah starts the school year with routine.

“My goals change throughout the year,” she says. “At the beginning of the year I prioritise rules and routines. When the children know the expectations, they blossom because the classroom is calm and quiet and they feel safe and secure. Once the behaviour is established, I encourage creativity through art, music, and critical thinking.

“School shouldn’t be boring! I try to link in art and music to ensure each child’s success. For example, when we are learning about lines in maths, I do directed drawings. Not only do they learn about open and closed shapes, curved lines, and straight lines, but concepts like parallel lines. I find this so valuable as they can easily translate this to real world knowledge.”

Seeing how her creative as well as structured teaching methods boost her students’ learning and knowledge is what Sarah finds most rewarding in her role.

“Just because they are little does not mean that they aren’t capable of incredible things,” she says. “One of the major things that I learned from studying at JCU was to have high expectations of my students. For example, we were learning the letter ‘x’ last year and one of the words a student gave me was oxidisation. They blow my mind!”

Another benefit of her school year plan is getting to keep fun as a part of the classroom.

“Because I put so much effort into establishing rules and routines at the beginning of the year, I am also able to use humour to engage students,” she says. “But this only works because I am able to rein them in easily after we have been silly."

“The best way I can summarise my teaching is that I’m like a live performance version of play school with some behaviour management thrown in. It’s absolutely exhausting, but so worth it to see the smiles on their faces!”

Sarah Del Favero

Sarah and her students in their classroom.
Portrait of Sarah and one of her students
Left: Sarah leading a musical exercise with her students. Right: Sarah with the student whose mother initially nominated her to be Cairns' top teacher.

Going the extra mile

Sarah’s creative teaching methods are just one part of what makes her stand out. Inside the classroom, Sarah gives her all to help her students learn and she works to support her students outside of the classroom as well.

“I believe that communication between school and home is so important,” Sarah says. “I send home individual photos with my students daily of what they have achieved with their writing, maths, free play, and craft. When parents know what concept their child is learning about, they are more likely to discuss it in the home, too, which is another valuable way to consolidate learning.

“I work to stay in constant communication with parents. I think that is probably a large part of why I was voted for Cairns’ Top Teachers.”

Another priority for Sarah is treating her students with attention and care. “I make sure I know their interests, likes and dislikes, which I can use to my advantage to embed into all their learning!”

Sarah strives to go the extra mile for her students because she is passionate about seeing them flourish. “I don’t know if it’s because I teach prep, but it is just so amazing seeing how they learn and grow throughout the year,” she says. “The children arrive not knowing how to glue a piece of paper into their scrapbooks and by the end they are answering questions using higher order thinking, writing in full sentences, and can read. It is so rewarding!”

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