5th grade public school teacher Sarah Painter is 2022 Teacher of the Year following tough COVID-19 school year

By: - July 26, 2021 1:39 pm

Sarah Ann Painter, 5th grade educator from Pinellas County, is named 2022 Teacher of the Year. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

“Find Joy.”

That was the motto for 5th grade teacher Sarah Ann Painter and her students at Clearwater’s Eisenhower Elementary in Pinellas County, to help everyone get through a troublesome school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She recalled that story in her acceptance speech at an Orlando gala announcing the 2022 Florida Teacher of the Year last week.

“We had some frustrations with the technology, and I would find myself groaning,” Painter said. “It was really the students who came up with this, not me. They called me out on it and said ‘let’s change that.’ So then, when a call would drop, or my sound wasn’t shared or my screen wasn’t shared — instead of groan, we’d say ‘find joy.'”

“That two word phrase changed a mindset across our school,” she said.

The Teacher of the Year award is an annual recognition from the Florida Department of Education meant to recognize “the contributions of Florida teachers.” Painter was one of five finalists, picked out of tens of thousand of  Florida public school teachers, according to a press release from the Florida Department of Education.

The four remaining finalists will each receive $15,000 for placing in the top five.

Painter will receive $20,000 as Teacher of the Year, and will be able to provide a two-year Florida college scholarship to a student of her choice. She will also serve as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education for a year, “working to create greater public awareness of Florida’s outstanding teachers and elevating the education profession,” according to the department’s press release.

Krista Stanley, last year’s Teacher of the Year winner, spoke at the gala on the unique struggles teachers had to work through in order to teach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have spent the last year in awe of the incredible work happening in education across our beautiful state,” Stanley said. “This year has been unlike any other. But what we have seen is resilience, compassion, grit and, most of all, the drive to provide quality instruction for all students.”

Painter explained her mindset during these times.

“Instead of thinking in terms of what COVID has taken away from us, let’s choose to look at it as what it has given us,” Painter said. “For me, it’s a better understanding of my district’s digital platform, a new way to connect with students and families, a new awareness of mental health, more time with families and friends, and a new perspective from which to teach from.”

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran spoke at the gala and mentioned Painter’s catch-phrase, about finding joy.

“As you guys go into the next school year,” Corcoran said, “it is our hope from the department – it’s probably not going to be fully normal, we already know that now – but we hope you guys find great joy.”

Painter said that as the 2022 Teacher of the year, she promises to focus on three things: Service, Advocacy, and Passion.

She then acknowledged that she created a mnemonic device to help her remember these priorities.

“Full disclosure, those three were actually my initials, S-A-P, (Sarah Ann Painter) so I wouldn’t forget them,” Painter joked.

She said that as the 2022 Teacher of the Year, she was committed to serving students, advocating for students and teachers, and maintaining passion for the profession.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.

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