Success is not always determined by what a person envisions as success. Sometimes, it ends up being something altogether different. Sarah Holder began her adult life in pursuit of a medical degree. Now she is a teacher at East Marion High School and feels like a success every day.
Holder is from Mobile but has moved around a lot. She has ties to the Pine Belt area and south Mississippi. Her mom, Melissa McNease Holder, is from Bassfield, and her dad's family is in Long Beach. Her mom attended Columbia Elementary for a year, and her grandfather worked at Crane Electric.
She attended the University of Southern Mississippi in pre-med for two years but struggled being away from home. Having that typical teenage mentality, she said she thought she knew it all and had it all figured out.
Working three jobs and going to school made her realize she did not, so Holder moved back in with her mom and switched to pre-dental at the University of South Alabama, where she said she thrived. She did not have her sorority there but banned with students to begin the pre-dental society at USA and became the treasurer.
She chose to switch to pre-dental because blood made her queasy, and she would pass out at the sight of it. Before she switched, she shadowed her dentist and loved it.
Getting into dental school proved to be a difficult thing as there are only 66 dental schools in the country, and there is a great deal of competition.
When she did not get into dental school, Holder applied to Western University of Health Science in Pomono, Cal., where she majored in biomedical sciences.
Holder's mom was always supportive of her, and they moved to California together.
However, Holder was exhausted and mentally drained, and after one year, she concluded the path she was on did not feel right anymore. She had tried all of her life to be a doctor but decided her happiness mattered more than whatever degree she was trying to pursue.
Holder had grown with a single mom. Her sister died at age 8 from a rare form of cancer. In 2004 her brother drowned in a rip current. Her dad struggled with mental health issues and addiction. He had gotten better, and they had mended their relationship when he died in 2017 from heart disease. She has one brother left, Eric Langston, and he will walk her down the aisle when she gets married one day.
Holder said she was tired. She had been in school since she was five, she missed her family and she was burnt out.
Holder and her mom moved back to Mobile, and she worked at Healthcare Solutions selling durable medical equipment.
"I wanted to find my footing," Holder said. "I wanted to see what I wanted. I didn't want to be miserable the rest of my life. Every change I made, my mom supported me. I realize everyone does not have that, and I am grateful for it."
One day her good friend, Linda Bass, who worked at USM called and told Holder she should check into a program at USM.
"Everyone had always told me I would make a great teacher," Holder said. "But it took me two months to take it seriously. I fought to not be a teacher all my life, maybe because everyone said I should be."
Holder, after deciding she needed to make more money and that she hated her office job, went to USM for the alternate route teaching certificate. She finished her masters of arts in teaching. She got her license to teach and a five year renewal.
She said she applied to every district that she could. In the summer of 2020, East Marion High Principal Percynthia Newsome called the day after she applied to East Marion. They had a Zoom interview, and she was offered the job a few hours later. She would go on to teach chemistry, human anatomy and physiology and zoology.
"Everything before had seemed so hard," Holder said. "But then it just all fell into place."
Holder said coming into teaching at the height of Covid was extremely difficult. Her classroom was not what she thought it would be. She couldn't see her kids' faces. She could only see their eyes.
"I loved seeing the light bulbs go off," Holder said, "and hearing the little shouts of excitement when they got it. I loved showing them cool things and tried to have as much as I could for experiments."
Holder reached out to her chemistry advisor at USM about ways she could make her chemistry class better. She was pointed to an American Chemical Society program that pairs high school teachers with a mentor who is part of the ACS. She meets throughout the year with her mentor. Her mentor at USM purchased a lab notebook for Holder.
Her advisor also cued her to a grant through ACS Science Coaches and the ACS Hach grant, and she got the money. She is focusing that money on reusable stuff such as beakers, electric balances and hot plates. She said she still struggles to have stuff to do the labs she wants to do.
"The first year, I knew nothing, and Covid was there," Holder said. "I learned more by teaching and more the first year with things being harder. I learned to adapt and to not be afraid to change up or to try doing things differently. The second year felt harder coming off of virtual learning. The standard was set higher. I can only hope I did as much as I could for my kids this year."
The first year, she said she took work home all the time and burnt out quickly. She realized she is still a human being and shouldn't have to work outside of school hours so much. Nick Roberts, the other science teacher, told her to stop taking stuff home, and if it did not get done during the day, it would get done eventually.
Holder said she has always been bad with time management and realized there were three things she must get done and the other stuff would be okay. She said she had to take care of lesson plans, grading and self care/free time.
That plan worked pretty instantly as she got into a routine.
Holder helped revive the National Honor Society at East Marion last year and was the assistant performing arts director. She said she has always loved to sing and dance, so this was a pleasure for her.
"It's cool to have students say they wish they were in my class because of what they hear from others," Holder said. "I absolutely love this. They are funny. They are good kids. That place is one big family. Even coming in from the outside, I feel accepted."
Holder plans to pursue her doctorate in education with an emphasis on social and emotional learning.
The 26-year old admits teacher exhaustion is real and that she slept the first two days of a recent cruise.
Despite that, she wants to be a good, positive example for her students.
"I want to be with the kids," Holder said. "76 percent of teaching is about the relationships. Adults need to admit when they are wrong and be okay
with apologizing to students."
Holder said she wants the focus to be on her kids because they are the reason she does the job she loves and why she now considers herself as a success.