By Ellah Foster '24
Graduating with a degree in Law and Society, Sarah Allison ‘13 quickly changed course away from law. She embraced the lessons learned during her undergraduate years to develop her passion for teaching and writing. Now having taught every level from second grade to high school, Sarah finds new inspiration in every class.
Being stuck at home in 2020 as a teacher and parent brought forth a new goal for Sarah: becoming an author. What started as a school project morphed into her first children’s book, Each of Us. Sarah has since published her second book and has a third on the way.
How did you develop your passion for teaching while at UCSB?
I played soccer at UCSB and my interest for teaching piqued through coaching clinics and camps. When I graduated, I wanted to see and experience education in a different environment than I did when I was growing up, which is what led me to teaching.
How do you feel your major prepared you for your future career?
I thought that I wanted to be a lawyer but I quickly switched direction after graduation. Regardless, one of the most important lessons I learned from my undergraduate degree is how to maintain responsible discourse, from gathering sources to support one’s ideas to engaging in discussion with other people. Additionally, writing is one of my strengths so I feel that the feedback and opportunities I had in that area really prepared me for my future career. In college, I felt like I had to know what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be all at once. That has changed a lot over time. I don’t think it is bad to explore different passions and even change course if needed. Education offers people an opportunity to explore different avenues and interests. Without my undergraduate experience at UCSB, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What does being a “big goals” person mean to you as a teacher and an author?
Sometimes, we limit ourselves. We get these great ideas or big dreams and then we decide that they are too far fetched or unattainable. I have never let that stand in my way. When I decide that there is a goal that I really want to achieve, I make a plan and then start taking steps towards accomplishing that objective. One big goal I had was teaching in Ghana, which I did in 2010. Another goal was getting my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. I made time and space to work towards accomplishing these goals. My most recent, of course, was becoming an author.
You wrote your first book during the peak of COVID-19. How did the pandemic shape your process and experience while writing?
Honestly, if there hadn’t been a pandemic, I don’t know that I would have written my first book. I always knew that I wanted to write a children’s book and for many years, I had ideas. But none of them felt like strong ideas that I was really passionate about. During quarantine, I spent much more time with my kids and I also designed distance learning for my students. I was creating a project for my daughter and her classmates centered around their identities and cultures, like what recipes they cook and what languages their family speaks. As I was designing that project, I decided to dig a little deeper and I ended up interviewing each family; I really wanted the children to know their own family stories, and that is where the idea for the book came from. It was the organic experience of creating a project for my children and then seeing it as an opportunity to share their stories more broadly.
What do you reflect most fondly on from your college years?
I was involved in several different communities at UCSB. I was an athlete, I was in Kappa Kappa Gamma, and I was learning from incredibly talented professors. I became exposed to many unique perspectives, organizations, and opportunities which helped me view the world through a new lens. I gained a broader perspective of what was out there, beyond the comfort zone of my hometown thanks to UCSB.
What themes and messages do you hope to convey to your readers?
Where do you draw inspiration from? Kindness, acceptance, and inclusivity are important themes throughout all of my books. I want readers to celebrate what makes each of them special. I’m a believer in the idea that we know the most about what we experience firsthand, so I draw inspiration from my personal life being a parent and an educator.
Where were your favorite spots on campus to sit and write?
I loved being anywhere outdoors and with a view – looking at the ocean or listening to the waves always calmed me. If I was in my apartment, I would open the doors and windows to feel and smell the fresh air from the ocean’s relaxing presence. I also spent a lot of time in the library, but that wasn’t my favorite spot to work!
What do you appreciate most about teaching?
I currently teach second grade, but I’ve taught everything from second grade through high school. My second graders are really open-minded and eager to learn. They share a genuine interest and appreciation for anything new, so exposing them to previously unexplored ideas and concepts is always rewarding.