Jane Wilson ’22 sat down with Elementary School teacher Ms. Sarah Maas Bearden, who started at TASIS in 2013 and currently teaches fourth grade while also serving as Core Knowledge Coordinator.
When did you start at TASIS, what do you teach, and what else are you involved with at the School?
I started here in August 2013. I am a fourth-grade homeroom teacher, so I teach History, Language Arts, Reading and Writing, and Math. I’m also the Core Knowledge Coordinator in the Elementary School, so I organize a lot of the History curriculum in particular.
I’ve also been a dorm parent since 2017. I started off as a Middle School dorm parent, and now I’m a High School dorm parent for the girls in Monticello.
How do you like being a dorm parent?
I enjoy it. I’m with the Elementary School kids all day, and then I get to go and be with the High School girls, so it’s a different view of TASIS. It’s great to interact with the girls and hear how their days are in and out of school and really try to build that home-like community within the dorm. It also gives me the opportunity to work with adults from different areas/departments within TASIS.
Can you tell me about your educational background?
I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice, and then my master’s is in Elementary Education (grades 1–6).
What was your career like prior to coming to TASIS?
I worked at a university for a couple of years doing research on reading and behavior and then implementing different reading and behavior strategies in around 15 different schools. After that, I went to go work for one of the schools that I helped implement some behavior modifications. It was a low-income, inner-city charter school, and I worked with a lot of kids who came from multicultural households in nearby neighborhoods.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
I just try to see things through the children’s eyes and be at one with them—talking them through things in a way that helps them develop a clear understanding of what is expected of them or from them. I try to be open and honest with them, and they tend to be very open and honest with me once they see that I’m at their level and I’ve given them the courage to try something new. If they fail or they get something wrong, it’s okay—we’ll just pick up and try again.
I want my students to know that they can try anything, be anything, and do anything. When we come to those bumps in the road, we can figure out what works best for them. Continuing to encourage them, creating that belief in themselves, and stretching them to reach their best abilities sets a good foundation to keep them intrinsically motivated to learn.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
I enjoy the different cultures that are in my classroom. In any given year, there could be at least six different nationalities in my class alone. I enjoy what I teach. I teach the Middle Ages as one of my units, and the fact that tomorrow we’re going to the castles in Bellinzona to actually see what we’re studying in class is a great learning experience.
And of course I have a great appreciation for the TASIS community. I enjoy having the opportunity to work with both students and co-workers in all departments and across all three divisions. All these different interactions give me great insight into my teaching and help me gain an even greater appreciation for what we all do here at TASIS.
At the Bellinzona castles
What’s been your proudest moment as a teacher?
Just seeing when the kids who are struggling academically, emotionally, or behaviorally have that “aha” moment. That child’s confidence begins to grow so rapidly, along with their academic levels. I’ve had some strugglers throughout the years, and watching them grow and be proud of themselves is one of the best feelings. It’s icing on the cake when other teachers notice and parents see the change. I have had some of the nicest letters and comments from parents letting me know they have seen their child happy and thriving.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Everyone is at a different level and in a different place (academically, emotionally, socially), and it’s my job to make sure that every student’s needs are met in the classroom. I do the best I can; it’s something I’m constantly thinking about and trying to perfect.
Did you always want to become a teacher?
No, I had no idea that I wanted to become a teacher. I thought I was going to become a forensic psychologist and work for the FBI because I loved psychology. But when I worked for Kansas University on a research grant and went into a number of different schools, I watched teachers teach, and many of them were not what I would consider to be suitable teachers. There wasn’t a lot of learning going on: teachers were burned out and were missing the connection with students. They were managing the students more than they were teaching them. Seeing this, I realized I wanted to teach: I wanted to make that connection and build that desire to learn in all students. I wanted to be able to create positive interactions and see the “light bulb” turn on in their minds when they learn something new.
Finally, why TASIS?
TASIS chose me. I’m from Kansas City, and I didn’t want to stay in the Midwest. I wanted to see the world, and as a teacher I didn’t know how I was going to afford it. A friend of mine led me in the direction of international teaching, and that is when I met Mr. Nyman Brooks, the Elementary School Head at the time, at an international teaching fair. He had seen my profile and asked for an interview. We ended up really hitting it off, and his description of the TASIS community, mission, and beauty had me sold.
I decided to take a leap of faith, sell all my stuff, and take a job here at TASIS. At the time I accepted this job, I thought I would only be away from the US for a year or two, but life had other plans. After convincing my husband to move here, we made this place our home and truly do enjoy the opportunities TASIS has provided us.