Jenna Osar

Jennifer Osar of Cherry Valley teaches math to students in 10th-12th grades at Harlem High School in Machesney Park. She was nominated by one of her peers, who said, “Her desire to stay on top of the latest ways to teach and engage students is an inspiration to those she works with.” In fact, her professional development over the last five years has included not just math or technology workshops like “common Core Mathematics for All Teachers” and “Technology in the 21st Century Classroom,” but also student-focused courses about bullying, autism, child abuse, mental disorders in children, suicide prevention, ADHD, and trauma. She received 20-year recognition from the district and has been named a Teacher of the Week by local media. Recently, Jennifer became a grader for the Illinois Science Assessment to learn how math is used as a science and engineering practice as part of the Next Generation Science Standards. She shares in her portfolio that teaching has changed significantly during the 20-plus years she’s been in the field. For one, students now are in an “exclamation point type of world,” in which they “communicate with an urgency and emphasis that my generation often finds exhausting.” This mindset delivers a challenge to teachers of all subjects. Jennifer constantly searches for new technology and methods to connect with cellphone-focused students and to show them math’s relevance to their lives. Also, her grading system has evolved to a skill-based one, in which students and their parents can see specifically what skills have improved and what continue to be challenges. Jennifer encourages students to share their approaches to problem solving and to discuss them freely with the class. “Listening to other ways of solving problems seems to be a skill that is diminishing in our society. Math is a safe way to teach this skill.” By sharing different ways to solve a problem, her students are able to see that their way isn’t lesser; it’s just different. Through this understanding, they gain confidence in themselves, learn to communicate their views and appreciate the diversity in their midst. Jennifer is proud of her district and her department, which allows teachers to try new things even if they make mistakes or things don’t go as planned. She says that this atmosphere of safety and acceptance “brings out some of the best abilities in my colleagues” and “keeps me challenged and always wanting to improve my teaching.” Principal Ronald “Terrell” Yarbrough stated in his recommendation letter that, “She doesn’t expect or need any praise for what she does for students. She simply wants to make sure that everyone is successful.”