Teacher’s Scholarship Pays it Forward

Gift by JennieRae Paker, BA ’97 will impact generations of students

Portrait of JennieRae PakerEven though JennieRae Paker, BA ’97 had wanted to be a teacher since childhood, she didn’t set out on the path to her teaching career right out of college—and her career didn’t evolve in the way she’d expected.

Paker participated in study abroad programs while earning her bachelor’s degree in history and minoring in German, and after graduation she moved to Germany for a while before returning to the U.S. “I wanted to get my teaching credential but I was putting it off,” she said, “so I took a job in a bank. And then one day at work I realized, ‘Nobody’s going to come back and say that their auto loan changed their life.’ I didn’t feel like I was making an impact.”

Starting her Career

Paker obtained her single subject credential in history at San José State in January 2000 and, thinking it was the wrong time to find a permanent position, decided to work as a substitute teacher to finish the academic year. It turned out to be a pivotal choice. “My first substitute job was at Muwekma Ohlone Middle School in a special education classroom,” she said. “They asked if I could stay for the rest of the week, then it was the rest of the month, and finally they asked if I could stay for the rest of the year.”

Paker was hired to teach special education in a permanent role that fall and went back to San José State to earn her MA in special education. She served as a special education teacher at Ohlone for 15 years, working with her students in her own classroom and assisting them in other classrooms as well. “I was their case worker and their main point of contact,” she said. “Whenever they had issues, they could come to me. I enjoyed the small class sizes and the opportunity to work one-on-one—with only thirty students, I could make a bigger impact for each of them.”

Making a Change

JennieRae standing in front of Machu PichuPaker had continued her global travels during summer breaks—one of the best perks of teaching, she said—but wanted to visit the southern hemisphere during local summer time. In 2014, she took a year off and traveled the world, visiting all seven continents. She came back refreshed and energized—and unexpectedly ready for a change. “Within a week I realized I needed something else,” she said. “I felt like my students’ success was largely based on their general education teachers, because I only had them in my class for an hour. I was ready to have more students so I could have a greater overall impact, even if it was a smaller impact on each student.”

While working in math classrooms with her special education students, Paker had noticed that she gravitated to math. “I found I have a knack for it,” she said. “Somehow math just speaks to me and I enjoy working with it, explaining it, teaching it.” She went back to graduate school again, this time to take higher-level math classes, pass the CSET, and learn calculus. Math credential in hand, Paker taught math at Ohlone for five years before moving on to her current role at Pioneer High School in San Jose, where she teaches algebra and geometry to 120 students per day. She’s now in her 23rd year of teaching.

Paker believes that her years of experience in special education benefit her math students. “I became good at explaining things in multiple ways,” she said, “and I notice when students are struggling and try to work with them one-on-one as much as I can. I’ve had a few instances where students struggled through math in middle school and now they really like it. I had a parent email me at the beginning of the year that their daughter was going to have a hard time in math, and could I keep an eye on her—and now that parent is emailing to say that her daughter is really enjoying the class and wants to do her homework.”

After more than two decades in teaching, Paker still loves her career. “It’s rewarding, it’s challenging, and it’s not the same thing every day,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen, and I like that it keeps me on my toes. Certain students or the mood of the students overall really shape how the class feels each day. I think that working with kids has kept me younger—and you can’t beat having the long vacations.”

Paying it Forward

Paker and her father standing in an athletic stadiumPaker’s father created a scholarship at his alma mater for students who were single mothers as a way of honoring his own mother. When he passed away in 2022, Paker decided she wanted to honor her father in turn, through her own scholarship. She established the WJ Paker Fund for studying abroad at UC Davis, and then the JR Paker Teaching Award in support of School of Education teaching credential candidates with the greatest financial need.

“With the teaching award, I was thinking about where I could make the biggest impact,” she said. “Each scholarship that’s awarded will affect one person’s life, but when that person is a teacher, they will go on to change other people’s lives, maybe many hundreds of lives per year, and those people will go on to change other peoples’ lives. It’s something that will make the world a better place—especially because this is a scholarship that’s in perpetuity, so ideally it will continue to pay forward for many future generations. A teacher I support may have a student who goes on to study cancer or be an environmental scientist. You never know what impact they’ll have on the world.”

Gifts to the School of Education strengthen and support our mission of creating a brighter future for the next generation of educational leaders and enhancing learning opportunities for all students.

Help us continue to create new opportunities with a year-end gift to the School of Education fund of your choice at:

To learn more about UC Davis’ disclosure policy, please visit:

Log in