Jennifer Zaur always knew she wanted to become a teacher, proving it many times as a young girl.

“I would set my Cabbage Patch dolls up in my bedroom and do fake worksheets for them,” Zaur recalls. “I would get some of the problems wrong, so I could help correct them.”

It was early practice for her future career in education as an elementary school teacher then reading interventionist and now as lead assistant professor of the Early Childhood Education and Child Development degree programs and assistant professor of Education at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) — not to mention working mom of four children. 

“I’m proud of how many different ways in which I have been able to be a teacher,” Zaur says. “It’s different age groups and different content, but still finding ways to meet the needs of my students whether they’re five or 55. Teaching is about meeting the needs of your students and being there — and helping them work through challenges — and you can do that no matter what age they are.”

Despite stories in the news about continuing teacher shortages, Zaur has plenty of encouragement for students looking to enter the field of education and become a teacher*.

“Find what it is you love about teaching and focus on that, because teaching really is amazing. It’s the best job there is out there,” she says. “There are always going to be things that are challenging. I think that’s true with any job. Find what it is about teaching that you’re passionate about. Find what about teaching makes you smile every day and focus on that and push the other things — the challenging things — off to the side so that when you’re in there, that’s your focus and you’re putting your energy into that.”

Two Teachers Team Up

Zaur grew up the middle child of three in Escondido, California, with a dad who was an anesthesiologist and a mom who was always active at the kids’ school. Zaur enjoyed growing up in San Diego, but after high school, she was ready for new surroundings. 

“I knew when I was getting ready to look at colleges, I was looking for a change, and Arizona State University (ASU) was the only school outside of California I looked at,” Zaur says. “I fell in love with the campus.”

It wasn’t long before she met her husband Pat in speech class and fell in love with him as well.

“I liked him right away,” Zaur says, “But he had a girlfriend.” When the coeds continued to run into each other here and there on campus, they exchanged hellos. One time they saw each other at a football game, and since Pat didn’t have the girlfriend anymore, the two went out that night after the game, and have been together ever since.

Zaur graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education in 2001 from ASU and received her K–8 teaching credential with endorsements in early childhood, reading, and English as a Second Language. She was quickly hired to teach sixth grade in Mesa, Arizona, at an elementary school in the Title 1 federal education program that supports low-income students. 

Though she was initially set on upper elementary, her career path took a detour after she met a coworker in her early teaching days. 

“We were trying to help each other navigate the world of teaching as new, young teachers and we decided it would be so much better if we navigated the world together,” says Zaur and since her partner teacher didn’t want to go up to sixth grade, she agreed to give third grade a try.

“I fell in love with everything about working with the younger kiddos,” Zaur beams. “I loved their love for learning, I loved how excited they got when they learned new things, I loved that it felt like you could really see their growth and progress.”

Zaur soon found that teaching literacy was a true passion. 

“I had a lot of struggling kiddos in my third-grade class, and I had to learn a lot to be able to help them,” she explains. “That took me to my journey of reading intervention, where I got to work with even younger kids and help them learn their literacy skills.”

Zaur made the most of her 11 years at the school in Mesa. She taught third, fifth, and sixth grades and she was a reading interventionist. She learned how to speak Spanish to be able to better communicate with her community. She also found over the years she naturally enjoyed mentoring new teachers and her own student teachers who went on to become teachers. Finally, she was an instructor of professional development workshops for coworkers at her school and across the district.

“That made me more confident in my own knowledge about what I knew about teaching, and then that also gave me the confidence to share that information and that led to a pathway of becoming a teacher of adults and not just kids,” Zaur says.

While working full time, Zaur went to school at night to earn her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in language and literacy from ASU, she says, by setting that goal for herself and taking it one class at a time — a strategy she encourages her students to use as well.

Students Ages Five to 55

In 2010, Zaur decided to make official the leap from educating children to educating adults and started working at UAGC as an associate faculty member, becoming full-time two years later. For the past 11 years, Zaur has been teaching at UAGC, and just last year, was promoted to lead assistant professor in the Early Childhood Education and Child Development degree programs — a testament to her passion, dedication, and ability to connect with and meet the needs of her students.


“I bring my professional background with all the work that I did,” she explains, “But then I think I bring a lot of practical mom knowledge too. When you can blend your personal and your professional, it can really help you find things you’re passionate about and you see things differently and I think it helps to be able to share information with our students through different lenses. I have my personal lens and then professional lens and they blend together and I think it really helps when you can break it down and say, ‘Let me share an example from my own kid or let me share an example from my classroom,’ rather than saying, ‘I only read this in an article, but this is what it looks like.’”

Zaur says she hopes her UAGC students can see her passion for teaching.

“I think the thing I love most is I know I’m impacting the field of education. Hopefully, my students walk away from my classes feeling my passion for education and knowing that I don’t actually know how far my reach will go. When you had your own classroom you knew that touch only goes to the kiddos you had with you that year, but now I have a new class of 25 students every five weeks who are then going out and working with kiddos, so hopefully that ripple effect continues.”

Full-time Faculty and a Family of Six

Zaur and her husband — who teaches fifth and sixth-grade band in Mesa and is also an adjunct professor at UAGC — had both been teaching elementary school for about two years when they got married and started a family of their own. Both have continued working full-time while raising their four children, and will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in June.


“I think my greatest achievement is being a mom!” Zaur exclaims. “It is a hard, but super rewarding job. It is really neat to watch my kids come into their own and to help them navigate all of their life challenges.”

The family lives in Gilbert, Arizona, where all four kids play soccer, one also plays Lacrosse, and one also plays basketball. Zaur is a manager for two of her kids’ teams, and she is the parent-teacher organization’s president at her kids’ school, which is one of the ways she says she gives back to her community and stays in touch with what is happening in education.

“We thought we were busy when they were little,” Zaur says. “Nope. Not at all.”

Although Zaur is admittedly organized when it comes to managing her family, she also gives credits her great network of friends, a really great community, and a great husband.

“We’re big on schedules and routines, things you teach your students in the classroom,” Zaur explains. “We are great at partnering and balancing and figuring out all the things that need to happen. I tend to be a pretty proactive person who tries to anticipate any hurdles or roadblocks that might come my way and have a plan or two in place to be successful.”

Another personal and professional strategy, Zaur says, is knowing sometimes you have to say, “No.”
“Trying to be present and in the moment is really important. When I’m at the soccer field, I don’t have my computer with me. I don’t have my work email on my phone. When I’m being mom, I’m mom. When I’m working, I’m working. And when I’m spending time with my husband, I’m spending time with my husband.”
She also says it helps to realize there’s no such thing as being a perfect parent. 

“You’re going to feel some days like you were a bad parent some days that you were a great parent. Your kids are some days going to feel you’re the worst parent. That’s all OK. There’s no such thing as being a perfect parent or having a perfect family.”

Zaur continues, saying, “It’s OK to prioritize yourself and prioritize your time to find what that balance looks like for you and your family and know that everything is not always going to work out the way you envision it, but it’s all going to work out OK.”


*An online degree from the University of Arizona Global Campus does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state’s education authorities prior to enrolling at the University of Arizona Global Campus to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher’s license.

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