“I felt like I could directly influence my community in a positive way. I figured teaching in a public school would allow me to pursue all the things I loved,” says Jaclyn Jensen, the newest social studies teacher at Oyster River High School.
Jensen spent last year as an intern for ORHS social studies teacher, Brian Zottoli. Now, she has taken over her own classes and joins the ORHS social studies department as a full time staff member teaching World Cultures, US History 1, and Environmental History. Although Jensen is new to ORHS, she is not new to teaching.
Jensen attended Simmons College in Boston where she studied political science and Spanish language. “I always loved learning about languages and was always interested in political science. I enjoyed learning about social and cultural changes. My original thought was to pursue a PhD.” Throughout her years in school, Jensen had a plan to go to college then attend graduate school and pursue a career in the political science field. After graduating college, she had a change of plans.
“I always figured I would continue with the research I had been doing in college. I presented my research at the end of my undergrad career, and I didn’t feel as fulfilled as I had hoped I would,” explained Jensen. Looking to find fulfillment with the work she had been doing, Jensen made the decision to take a break from her education and went to Spain.
“I ended up teaching English in Spain. That’s where I found out I wanted to work with high school aged students. I absolutely loved it. I originally went to Spain because I had really enjoyed being there in the past. I felt like working with younger people came naturally to me.” At this point in her life, she had finally found the fulfillment she had been looking for. Going to Spain allowed Jensen to realize that she found inspiration in teaching high schoolers. Jensen felt a connection to teaching that she had not felt before.
“When I was little, I thought I was going to be the president.”
As a child, she loved going to school and learning about current events; this passion has translated to her work as a teacher. Jensen attended Newmarket High School where she played sports, performed in plays, and participated in Model UN. “I went to a small high school, so we all participated in everything the school had to offer.” Jensen has always been a very energetic and outgoing person.
Many of Jensen’s high school teachers have influenced her teaching style. “I had a chemistry teacher that had such high expectations of all his students that kids didn’t want to disappoint him,” Jensen explained. “That left a great impression on me. Even the kids who never did their homework, did the homework for his class. He held everyone to such high standards.” Because of her chemistry teacher, Jensen is working to implement a similar technique with her own students.
Aside from wanting to gain respect from students, Jensen wants to be a teacher that students feel comfortable coming to with any problems they may have. “My high school advisor’s positivity and joyfulness inspired me to make connections with my students.”
“I try to remember that I’m not just preparing students to be writers, or potential political analysts or whatever, I’m preparing them to be adults: respectful, kind, productive, happy people.”
Jensen’s classroom is set up in a circle for full class discussions. She enters the classroom full of energy, welcoming every student as they enter. She starts every class with an agenda, laying out exactly what is expected of the students for that day’s class. First, Jensen quickly reviews the material from the previous class by asking the class clarifying material on the questions. She works hard to include students who are not already involved in the discussion.
On this day, Jensen asked the class to pair up with someone they had not talked to before. In their pairs, the students were asked to read a short passage about a “cultural ritual.” They did not know what the ritual was or what culture was doing it. As they read, the students looked horrified. The reading described the process of getting a haircut, only it was described from someone who had not experienced a haircut before. Once the class had figured out the truth behind the ritual, Jensen opened up the discussion about changing your perspective. She opened the students’ eyes to think about things in a new way.
Jensen’s philosophy as a teacher includes creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their ideas, giving assessments that are meaningful for the student’s learning, and teaching the importance of critical thinking.
“Students are going to forget the dates, but what’s going to stick is the life lessons,” said Jensen. She would like to not only teach students about history, but how to be good people in our society. She is working to prepare them for the real world.
Jensen explained, “when students feel comfortable and supported, they do better work. They’re more willing to engage in challenging conversations and put in more effort.” In Jensen’s opinion, it’s just as important to help students to feel encouraged and respected, as it is to teach them.
“She gets along with kids well. That connection isn’t something I can teach her. I think her interactions with students and working to understand what the student is like out of the classroom is something I admire about her.”
Zottoli became a huge inspiration for Jensen after she worked with him for a year. Zottoli described the process of how they met. “Jensen interviewed with me. There’s a process for interns and teachers to pick each other, like speed dating. They all come in, and you spend a little time with them to see if it would be a good match.” He explained that Jensen seemed very eager and competent. He immediately knew she would be good fit for his classroom and Oyster River in general.
Jensen said Zottoli gave her a lot of freedom to create her own assessments and try out new things in a real classroom environment. They had a lot of discussions on how to make the class the most effective. “We had great conversations about how to lead a discussion and how to help kids to have their own views, without leading them in a particular direction.”
Jensen really appreciated conversations like these because as a teacher, something that is really important to her is, “helping students to form well grounded opinions on world issues. Everyone has opinions, but I would like my students to be able to back up their ideas with solid reason and explain why they have the views that they do.”
Being her mentor, Jensen learned a lot from Zottoli, but that teaching went both ways. “I think Ms. Jensen challenged me a lot. Sometimes when you teach for a long time, you get into a routine. Ms. Jensen really challenged me to expand my curriculum.” The two worked well together throughout the year, learning off of one another and building a good curriculum.
With her prior years as a teacher, Jensen has learned the importance of taking time for yourself. She expressed how much she tries to learn from her mistakes as a teacher, because mistakes will happen, but to not overthink them. As a teacher, she knows she will have challenges, and has already experienced some.
“It sounds simple, but how do you reach students who are disconnected, or seem disinterested? How to you make connections with students who don’t want to be in school?” This is something Jensen said she will most likely spend her entire teaching career working on. How do you get a student to stay engaged if they don’t want to be there? Even in her first couple of weeks as a teacher at ORHS, this is something really important to Jensen.
Jensen is very excited to be joining the Oyster River community, and can’t wait to get more involved. “Since I did sports in high school, I think it would be really fun to get involved with coaching or something like that.” She is grateful for the opportunity, and is very happy to be here. One piece of advice that she is carrying with her in her first year here at Oyster River comes from her mentor, Zottoli. He told her, “you will learn more from the students than they will learn from you, so you have to be open to that.”
Being new isn’t always easy, so if you see Ms. Jensen in the hallway, be sure to give her a warm, welcoming smile!