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Sarah Johns

Sarah is a science teacher from Nelson who sees science in everything and everywhere.

Sarah JohnsWhat do you do on an average work day?

After a double flat white and getting my two daughters ready for school, my day is reasonably predictable as it follows a school timetable. 

I teach three to four science classes per day to students aged between 11 and 18 years old. What happens for any lesson relies on the 25-30 human beings sitting in front of me. What the weather is doing, or how the students are feeling, are all variables that are on the move and although I may have a plan for where I want us to go with the learning, the students may take me down a completely different learning 'rabbit hole'. You definitely have to be nimble!

At times I could be marking students' work and preparing student feedback, or planning experiences that hook students into the learning. I also meet regularly with colleagues to engage in professional learning where we discuss and inquire into educational trends and teaching practices that have a proven impact on learning outcomes for students.

I also conduct my own professional learning online because I love learning too - and reading, researching and applying educational theory is also very much my hobby.

What did you study at school? And after high school?

At high school I studied Art History - this was my most memorable subject! - along with Chemistry, Outdoor Education, Physical Education, Biology and English.

At the end of high school, I had no firm plans so my careers advisor recommended I take a gap year. So, I did. I sold my Morris Minor car and bought a ticket to London, and then shortly after that headed north to Shrewsbury where I worked at PGL, an adventure centre for children.

Before returning home, I made the decision to apply to Lincoln University to study Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. After the first year I decided to shift my focus and degree to a Bachelor of Resource Management. I then went on to complete a post graduate diploma in secondary teaching.

Sarah with her family in Samoa

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Yes, but I couldn't say this was due to me deliberately planning for it! My love of learning and love of adventure meant I just followed my nose and took up the many opportunities that I sought out or that presented.

The skills, independence, understanding and dispositions that I have acquired along the way definitely contribute to my personal story and the teacher I am today. I am glad of this and value it in retrospect.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to paint on your spots! I would ask you to find out what interests you and brings you joy, then ask yourself 'why is this?'. Questions like these help you make the choices that you will live.

Be prepared to take detours along the way because there are opportunities and learnings, which you're not yet aware of, that are waiting.

Sarah in Antartica

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Definitely being awarded the 2017 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize this year!

I also really enjoyed travelling and working in Antarctica in 2014 for three and a half weeks at part of my RSNZ Endeavour Fellowship [which is now the Science Teaching Leadership Programme]

Travelling to Samoa in 2017 with my family to complete study as part of my Woolf Fisher Fellowship was also amazing, as was volunteering in Nepal for three weeks to train and support secondary school science teachers.

Most of all, I truly value the personal emails, notes and cards I receive from students, whānau and young women who have left school - who share with me how much they have enjoyed their time with me in class and how this has helped them to develop their full potential.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

Science affects so much of our everyday lives and will play a big part in shaping our future, especially when it comes to making decisions that will affect our children and our children's children. Everybody in New Zealand should have the capability to navigate the information-rich world they live in and be fully informed when it comes to making these important decisions.

New Zealand has world-class education and if we are to sustain a growing New Zealand population with a finite amount of land, and a beautiful but fragile ecosystem, then the focus on STEM is critical.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

The young women that I work with really care about making the world a better place.

I invite them and others to bring their ideas, passion, innovation, creativity, problem-solving skills and talents to STEM pathways. These will be required now and into the future.

Although it is easy to describe the wicked problems we face, it is also important to acknowledge the exciting scientific discoveries yet to be made and innovations still to developed. It is these young women that will be doing it.

Sarah Johns teaching students

Sarah is a science teacher from Nelson who sees science in everything and everywhere.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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