For Sarah Ann Painter (M.Ed.’12), education has been a lifelong calling and an unwavering purpose. From an early age, she felt drawn to the field, often playing games of make-believe, and pretending to be a teacher to her youngest sister.

“I think it was that feeling of accomplishment when she mastered a task that I gave her,” she said. “… I just felt like this satisfaction that became contagious, and it just naturally led to, ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ I’m going to be in this field. I’m going to be working with children and continue that feeling of accomplishment.”

Sarah has done just that, recently completing her 18th year of teaching at the elementary level. Her lasting devotion and spirit of excellence have recently been recognized with the Florida Department of Education’s esteemed 2022 Teacher of the Year award.

Sarah shared throughout these years that her guiding teaching philosophy has focused on the power of building relationships not just with students, but with their families and caregivers.

Sarah Ann Painter

“From what I’ve gathered over 18 years is they all want to be involved, and if there’s a roadblock, then I figure out a way around it,” she said. “… We form such an alliance that there’s nothing but success the rest of the year and it carries past the year.”

Sarah found that relationship building was even more critical during the pandemic when schools transitioned to emergency remote learning. Although one of the most challenging periods in education, she also found this time of transition her proudest.

“I felt like I grew as a teacher in those last few months more than I have grown in the last 18 years because I couldn’t just do things I had always done,” she said. “I was forced to be uncomfortable, but my students were too, and I think the lessons of resiliency and triumph that we walked away with are sticking with us.”

Receiving the Teacher of the Year award following this experience, has made it all the more meaningful.

“It’s validation, honor and recognition,” she said. “Recognition in a profession that doesn’t always get that, and especially in the year that I’m being honored — yeah, it blows me away.”

As Florida’s Teacher of the Year, Sarah will travel as an ambassador for one year and intends to follow through on three commitments — promoting the importance of service to children, advocating for educators and cultivating a passion for education that fuels both teachers and students alike.

She emphasized that this opportunity and distinction would not be possible without her family or Eisenhower Elementary School, where she teaches fifth grade. Painter shared that her husband is fully supportive, noting, “he says no to nothing,” and her whole family is flexible with her new Teacher of the Year commitments.

“It is a community effort,” she said. “…I have a staff that I work with that is behind me 100 percent, and the successes that I’ve garnered were not done alone — I have strong teammates, strong administrators all the way up to the district level.”