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  • Francis Commey

Jennifer Pariseau: The classroom as a home for engagement and empowerment

Students at Webb Bridge Middle School are led to success thanks to math teacher Jennifer Pariseau, who doesn't let anything stand in their way.

After high school, Jennifer Pariseau wasn't sure what she wanted to do. Teaching was something that was always around her. In fact, her mother was a special education teacher that loved her job but warned Jennifer not to enter the profession. She eventually enrolled in school for graphic design. However, even a job at a high-end card company after finishing school couldn't satisfy her desire to make a difference. It was the rewards of teaching that drew Jennifer back to it. In the past, Jennifer worked with her mother as a teacher's aide and her experience with one particular student that stood out. “I worked one-on-one with him and eventually teachers would let me take small groups out for instruction. Watching this student’s journey and his accomplishments was so rewarding,” she said.

Around the time she figured graphic design wasn’t for her, Maryland was offering to hire teachers if you had a college degree. Not only would they be willing to hire, but also help pay for your teaching certificate. “In 2005, I applied and became a middle school special education teacher,” she said. “From there, I found my specialty was teaching math and I pursued that road. I’ve been teaching middle school math ever since.”

Outside of the classroom, Jennifer's approach to becoming the most effective teacher she can for her students begins with keeping an eye out for teacher conferences, especially those related to math. “I have joined a variety of education Facebook groups such as Building Thinking Classrooms, Desmos, YouCubed, Middle School Math etc.,” she said.

In the classroom, Jennifer aims to empower her students by “pushing the level of difficulty to challenge students but also make it a safe entry point,” she said. Jennifer is a fan of using her own mistakes as another way to empower her students as well. As a teacher, Jennifer knows that she's not always right, and she lets her students know this. “So, if a student finds an error in my answer key when we review our work they raise their hand and say ‘Teacher Challenge,’” she said. “If they can correctly identify and correct my error they get a piece of candy. I want to reward them for having the courage to speak up.”

It is rare to see a class that is as engaging as Jennifer's class. She creates this environment for learning, while still being a 'goofy teacher' and telling jokes with her students. “I want to engage students in the learning and get them asking why or saying I wonder or what about,” she said. Another unique tool she employs in her classes to encourage academic success is student portfolios. “Each student keeps a portfolio of all their grades and assignments,” she said. “They are asked to write two positive statements about their work, try to correct problems and explain where you got stuck.”

The most dedicated educators know how significant every student is to the world. Jennifer, who belongs to that category, makes sure they know every day that nothing is impossible as long as they try. “I want students to feel they are capable of hard things,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Pariseau

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