Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Chabriel-Amara

image of Jennifer Chrabiel-Amara

Learn more about Jennifer Chabriel-Amara, a UOTeach (’15) alumna, through our Alumni Spotlight series.

“We need teachers who want to help each student feel valued and connected so that they can learn how to think critically and contribute to society.” – Jennifer Chabriel-Amara

Meet Jennifer, a UOTeach alumna who uses her teaching to inspire students in math and STEM. After almost a decade as a teacher, Jennifer acknowledges how influential the UOTeach program was in shaping her approach to teaching mathematics. In her classroom, she has seen the benefits of phasing out lecture-style teaching methods and instead empowering students to take charge of their own learning through collaborative group work and facilitator teaching.

Jennifer has discovered the value of students developing "math confidence" through problem-solving, pattern recognition, and exploration. 

Her favorite moments as a teacher are when a students' faces light up when they understand something they have been struggling with and watching them enjoy what they are learning in a collaborative, encouraging environment.

How did you choose a career in education? Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher?

Growing up, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, but I was certain of one thing—I did not want to be a teacher. But life often turns us around. 

One day, after being in the Navy, tutoring in college, raising my young children, and working at an alternative residential school, I realized I loved teaching. I realized I had a gift and I decided I wanted to become a teacher. So, I signed up for UOTeach and have never looked back. 

We need teachers who want to help each student feel valued and connected so that they can learn how to think critically and contribute to society. I thought, I could be someone who inspires a student to solve a world problem just because I believed in them. A student who might have wanted to give up on math or STEM might instead go on to cure cancer! I like to believe everything I do makes a ripple in the world, even if it is small. Like the poem “It Matters to this One,” I hope to at least help the students I teach. 

How did the UOTeach program prepare you to serve students?

In the Science and Math cohort, we were given opportunities to experience group work from the student perspective and shown various techniques that could help facilitate this mode of education. Math is often taught in the form of direct instruction and lecture format, but at UOTeach, we were introduced to ways that students can be in control of their own learning. This opened my mind to new ways to teach, especially with the use of group work and facilitator teaching. All these things contributed to changing how I thought math should or could be taught. Further, I became comfortable with trying new things, making mistakes, and growing. 

What is your favorite thing about teaching math?

In my class I have been so fortunate to experience, almost daily, students' excitement when they figure something out. The moment they exclaim “oh!” and their face lights up. I love looking around my room to see my students actively engaged and overhearing math conversations where they teach each other, laugh, and enjoy the process. My favorite moments are those “oh” moments and watching their math confidence grow. 

What are the biggest challenges facing students today in learning and understanding mathematics?

One of the greatest challenges is the mindset students come with. We have to help them believe in themselves and gain math confidence. There is also the fear of making mistakes and how others see them. I try to help everyone realize that going slow, or taking time to ask questions, is not a bad thing.

Another challenge we face are gaps in education. In many math classes, there is a lot of focus on the procedural, which is based in memorization and often does not stick. I think it’s important to mix in discovery, pattern recognition, and problem solving so if students forget the procedural, they still have a way to find the answer. I believe this method is more beneficial for students in the long run. Having the skills to derive a formula or to problem solve and find a solution are often more important than memorization.

Student apathy is also a challenge. I want to reinvigorate students’ love of learning and not focus on the grade. Too much focus on grades instead of learning results in students who retain much less of the subject matter. When we shift to subject mastery focus, understanding and retention increase.

Finally, we have to focus on building relationships. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” We cannot just teach our subject; I believe we must care about the whole student using restorative practices and encourage them in every way. Then, the math comes naturally and becomes fun.