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Placing Students at the Heart of Teaching


Mental Health and Community Services Teacher, Sarah Eldridge, was awarded the 2019 Teacher of the Year Award after her first teaching year at Box Hill Institute. In fact, it was her first year teaching altogether!

Before moving into teaching, Sarah spent 22 years as a youth worker, crisis worker, an adolescent mental health worker, and at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre as a chaplain and team member of the Family Violence Response Team. She said, “I was looking for a change and had known Kelly Quirk because I had taken some of the Youth Work and Community Services students on placements in my previous roles.”

Kelly, the Course Coordinator for Community Services and Mental Health, had posted on Facebook that she was looking for teachers and Sarah responded that she wished she was qualified. The two got together to discuss Box Hill Institute’s pipeline teacher under supervision process and, after an interview, Sarah was offered the job. Two weeks later started teaching.

Sarah said still has so much to learn but she is so touched that her students felt she was worthy of nomination. She said, “When my name was announced, I was honestly shocked. I am still pinching myself, and every time someone reminds me, I still can’t believe it. It’s a complete honour, and a testament to the amazing team I work with and the incredible students I have.”

Every day, Sarah asks herself how she can make her students more industry-ready and more passionate about their studies and future career. She said, “It’s become my mantra for my prep time. What do my students need? What do they want to know? How can I make sure they grow from this class?”

One of the most challenging things Sarah has found is how to take her industry experience and make it relevant and interesting to students. She said she quickly realised that her students came alive when she spoke to them about her industry experiences. Initially, she would spend too long telling stories and had to rush through the course content but she eventually found a balance. She said, “There’s a moment when all of the sudden they get it and their eyes light up. That moment is so rewarding.”

Watching her students flourish, obtain jobs in the mental health and community services sector, and being able to celebrate with them as they embark on their new careers makes getting up every day worth it for Sarah. She said, “I tell them from the beginning that whilst I’m their teacher, I’m training them to be my colleagues, so I’ll treat them more as my team members, people that I get to mentor and walk alongside for a period of time whilst they find their feet.

“Every morning before I start my class, I remind myself to ensure my eyes are lighting up as soon as they walk in or now, log in. If they remember nothing else about me or my stories, I want them to walk away from Box Hill Institute knowing that they were believed in and cared for.”

Sarah plans to invest her award prize on studying a Diploma of Counselling, which is something she’s always wanted to learn more about. While she’s had many roles in counselling positions, she has never had any formal counselling training. She said, “I also think it will help my students who often have counselling based questions in relation to working with clients.”

Sarah has found starting a new career in teaching and indulging her love for learning an incredible experience incredible. She said, “I count it a privilege to work at Box Hill Institute and feel so lucky to have such a diverse and passionate team of colleagues to work alongside.”