Written by Zennie Trieu
Sarah Fahey attended The King’s Academy, a private, Christian, college-preparatory school in West Palm Beach, Florida, from kindergarten to her senior year of high school. Her subsequent four years were spent studying theatre, film, and television at NYU. A few months before her graduation last year, Sarah was, most humbly and surprisingly for her, offered a position to teach acting and musical theatre at King’s for grades 9-12. While many jobs can lead people—even recent college grads—to feel frustrated and jaded, Sarah’s new career has only softened her already big heart, opened her curious mind, and expanded her view on the importance of fighting for an education system worthy of our bright children and forward-thinking teenagers. I catch up with her on her first year of teaching, which involved transitioning from university student to high school instructor, letting her younger students teach her just as much as she guides them.
Tell me more about The King's Academy.
The staff refers to the school as a college-prep school, but now I think it’s turning into more of a vocational school. I think there are about 1,200 kids enrolled. For the most part, the students are incredibly intelligent. There are all sorts of programs offered! Everything from engineering to law.
Would it be safe to assume that many of your prior teachers ended up becoming your fellow coworkers last year? What did you anticipate, and how did the reality of joining the team end up differing from your expectations?
Oh, my gosh. I was so nervous going in as a teacher. Yes, I knew the majority of people who worked there, but it’s so different and intimidating when you’re going from a student role to a teacher role. There was a sense of comfort because I knew the campus and the vibe of the school well, but I had no idea what I was doing. To go from studying theatre to becoming a teacher with absolutely no experience teaching in that area is scary. I like being prepared. I tell my students that confidence usually stems from preparation, so my confidence at first was at a negative, haha. It involved a lot of emotions. As nervous as I was, everyone was very patient and welcoming. It was basically starting over in a place that had been a second home for me at one point in the past.
Were you also nervous about how you would come off to the students?
At first, I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t know if the students would respect me or like me. The first semester was really tough. I dealt with a lot of insecurities and feeling very inadequate. I was going in as a 22-year-old and teaching kids just a few years younger. I was so nervous all the time. I was worried about how I looked or how I spoke. I took stuff personally a lot when I probably didn’t need to, which I think happens with any first-year teacher. After I made it through the first semester, I realized that the kids just wanted someone with whom they could feel comfortable and can confide in, so that’s what I tried to set out to do. I think we forget that even though they’re teenagers, they need respect too, so I tried to respect them in hopes that the respect would be returned. Once I got to that point, everything was different. I adore those students. I had no idea that they would be so hilarious, brilliant, loving, and eager to learn. I went from being so nervous to just taking it day-by-day and searching for ways to connect with them better. Man, I love them. They make all the long hours, tears, and frustrations so worth it.
Did you incorporate a lot of what you learned as a high school student and as an NYU graduate in creating your curriculum for your students, and did you take a lot of advice from fellow teachers even if they were in different departments?
When it came to teacher prep, I just started reaching out to teachers I admired and asked for their advice. Basically, everything came from what I learned at [NYU] Tisch. Thankfully, since I went from graduation in May [of 2016] to teaching in August [of the same year], I still had all my notebooks and textbooks that I could pull from!
Did your overall outlook on the education system—and on adolescence as a whole—change after this past year?
I think so. I personally didn’t give these kids enough credit. They have a lot going on and I think that gets overlooked. They have real problems. Everything from anxiety to depression to family or financial issues. It’s scary, but I think we can’t just assume because of their age that they don’t need the love and attention that we would normally give to adults. My view has changed a lot. It’s a beautiful and innocent time but it’s not always like that for everyone.
I’ve known you for a few years now, and you seem to mature more with each passing day. However, I also find that you have a childlike spirit within you has continued to bloom in this past year. You’re close with your family, you’re head over heels for someone [the gentleman who took the photos attached in this interview], Millie the adorable puppy entered your life, and you take frequent trips all over the area—from the waterfront to Disney World. Did spending time with your high school students play a part in this enrichment of your already colorful life?
You’re so sweet. I feel extremely fortunate that everything has fallen into place so beautifully in my life. Honestly, everything came from faith. I had faith that I would find the perfect man for me. I had faith that I would find my place at King’s. I think my faith is what keeps me motivated and optimistic because I know everything will work out and be okay. I think teaching only added to that. It added a lot of perspective to my life and helped me to put others first. My mom always told me that to truly be happy, I need to put others first, and she was absolutely right. Teaching helps me put that into practice. I still have a lot to figure out about it, but I’m doing my best!
I love that with your job you have room to play and be goofy. For many people starting their post-grad careers, they can quickly become prone to seeing the negative more than the positive, and find it difficult to feel the thrill of starting something brand new. What’s it been like? You spent four years in New York City, and you’re home now in Florida.
Yeah, it’s hard not to get frustrated or complain. But in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t have a lot of problems. It’s been a pretty big change. Florida will always be home for me, but it was hard to move back and leave a place that became so comfortable. It was scary to not have any friends down here and have to start over. I definitely miss the city and my friends in New York, but I am happy to be home. I get to see my family all the time and there’s no snow. That’s a big bonus!
© All photos taken by Nathan Daniel Bayer.