For a teacher running out of steam, finding inspiration by turning back to higher education might seem an obvious decision, but for Jennifer “Jen” Ammenti, a graduate of the History and Education Program, inspiration meant returning to the formation of education as well as finding a program that would nurture her interests.
Now armed with the historical knowledge of the education system in the United States and newly acquired research skills, Jen brings a unique value to her work and to the field of teaching. Jen works for the New Teacher Center, an organization that partners with school districts to improve teacher effectiveness and support teacher induction. As a coach in the Palo Alto area, she provides professional development training for a group of 10 seasoned and new teachers. “Studies have found that if you provide professional development and support the implementation of professional development, the likelihood of changing teacher practice is much higher,” says Jen.
She claims she had an interest in teaching from a young age, and specifically attended college for her degree and teaching credential. “When I was younger I always volunteered in the classroom. In high school I did a lot of tutoring and coaching cheerleading and sports,” she said.
It was in her tenth year of service as a classroom teacher for Third and Fourth graders and as a K-8 librarian where her excitement for education began to wane. She looked toward graduate school to seek out a new challenge and landed on the History and Education Program at Teachers College. “I chose the History and Education Program because it was a piece of education I felt I didn’t really have a very firm grasp of. I didn’t really know where we had been or what we had done in the past. I was looking for a broader understanding of the education system,” she said.
Although Jen began the program intending to achieve her Master of Arts (M.A.) degree, she quickly discovered her interests were deeper than first imagined. She says it was after understanding what she wanted her thesis to become as well as determining what it meant to be a historian, that she decided to extend her time and enroll in the more extensive Master of Education (Ed.M.) track.
History was not the only thing on her mind as a TC student. Jen was active with the English Education Program’s Racial Literacy Roundtables and Youth Media and Educational Justice course. Having the opportunity to discuss diversity to accompany her studies resonated with Jen. Now, she volunteers with the education committee for Showing up for Racial Justice. With this organization, Jen says, “There are lots of opportunities for discussion around racial identity and race that are important in education that are often hard to have if you’re not having them on a regular basis.” Its most recent activities include partnering with the Bay Area chapter of Black Lives Matter.
As a student, Jen was deeply invested in her studies. “I definitely feel I walked away with a really solid understanding of our educational history and I really enjoyed all the classes I took in the History and Ed program, particularly with Professor Erickson,” she said.
Jen sought guidance throughout the program from Assistant Professor of History and Education, Ansley Erickson. “There’s so much that goes into writing that thesis,” said Jen. “It is such a process and [Professor Erickson] is so clear and supportive and puts such amazing structure in place that allows you to navigate on your own but not fall behind or get lost in all of it.”
Dr. Erickson was not only a personal confidant, but a steward for Jen’s research. “She was instrumental in even finding my topic,” she said. “She knew what I was passionate about and she really helped steer so much of what I was doing in a way that gave me ownership of what I was doing.”
Jen is still piqued by her research on the National Teacher Corp she did at TC. “There’s a piece of teacher identity and how the identity of teachers form when they’re in the profession, particularly in their first few years of teaching, that I’m very curious about. And I’m very curious about how that plays out and how that affects the classroom environment in terms of the space that teachers create,” she says. Jen concedes that very little archival evidence was available at the time she was writing her thesis, but if any does become available in the future, she would be open to returning to that work.
As a coach with the New Teacher Center, Jen reveals that her work often coincides with her past research findings, particularly in partnering with public schools to support teacher effectiveness. This lasting connection has prompted ties that could possibly permeate beyond her current position.
“I’m happy in the position that I’m in, but I’m always thinking what’s down the road,” she says of her future plans. “This has kind of been my educational story — not really knowing what’s next, but trusting where I’m at and that it’s going to lead to whatever’s next.”
While she is still committed to education, her continuation in the field will depend on the substance of her work. “I think, for me, I’m always asking myself the question of, am I working to change? I’m always thinking about the system present in education and the equity within those systems. I’m always thinking about what I’m doing and whether or not I’m helping to improve those systems to improve equity for all students,” she says.
“I see very big areas for growth and change in education,” she continued. “If I think I’m complicit, that’s usually my time to shift and change into something that will hopefully bring about change again.”
Nori Kato is a Staff Writer and Social Media Coordinator for the Department of Arts and Humanities. She is also a graduate of the International Educational Development program at Teachers College.