Elsy Mora Zambrano
Elsy Mora Zambrano of La Colina Junior High School in Santa Barbara is being honored as a Salute to Teachers 2023 Distinguished New Educator. (Santa Barbara County Education Office photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series on the teachers who will be honored Nov. 5 at A Salute to Teachers, presented by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office.]

Eight public school educators will be recognized Nov. 5 at A Salute to Teachers, an event hosted by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito.

Joanna Hendrix — a Santa Barbara County Education Office preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten deaf education teacher at Ralph Dunlap School in the Orcutt Union School District — has been named the 2023 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year and is a finalist for 2023 California Teacher of the Year.

Jennifer Peterson of Cabrillo High School in the Lompoc Unified School District will be recognized as the 2023 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.

The 2023 distinguished mentors to be recognized are Cara Leach of Foothill School in the Goleta Union School District, Christina Roessler of Peabody Charter School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Alyssa Spanier of Solvang School in the Solvang School District.

The 2023 distinguished new educators to be honored are Crystal Guzman of El Camino Junior High School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, Kendall Stevens of La Cumbre Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Elsy Mora Zambrano of La Colina Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The ninth annual presentation will be livestreamed at 5 p.m. Nov. 5 at https://tinyurl.com/sbceosalute2022.

In addition to Cox, Salute to Teachers is sponsored by Noozhawk, Fielding Graduate University, Melfred Borzall, Montecito Bank & Trust, Santa Barbara Bowl and the Santa Barbara City College Foundation.

Noozhawk Q&A

Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Elsy Mora Zambrano: I always dreamed of becoming a teacher. I loved helping my own teachers grade and thought it was the coolest thing ever that my teachers had this whole collection of pens.

While I was in college, I was working as a paraeducator and I realized how much of an inspiration I could be for my community. So, I figured this was the perfect job for me!

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

EMZ: I have been a certificated math teacher for a little over a year now.

Noozhawk: What is your favorite subject or lesson plan to teach your students?

EMZ: My favorite thing to teach is functions. I love it because I get to have fun with the whole idea of the same X not being able to have two different Ys. We have a conversation about “ex”-partners, reasons “why” they became ex-partners and about us “functioning” if we let the same “ex” have different “whys.”

We use this concept and call it the “Bestie Rule” to tell whether a mathematical relationship is a function. My students have a lot of fun with this, it helps them remember and facilitates future conversations we have to understand the math.

Noozhawk: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

EMZ: Helping students build confidence through the relationships I get to build with them. Of course I love when I help students build confidence in math, but I also mean in general.

I strive to make my room a safe space for my students, so students are always in my room before school, during lunch and after school. Because of this I get to build amazing relationships with many students on campus so they’re always coming to me for “advice” or just to talk about what’s on their mind.

These relationships are what makes me love being a teacher. They help me better understand my students, and they help my students feel safe enough to be vulnerable and take risks in their learning.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

EMZ: One of my biggest challenges as a teacher is feeling like I am not doing enough because there is so much need while simultaneously feeling that I am doing so much I physically cannot do any more.

There is so much that needs to be done that I can’t do because I am already doing so much. It is so hard being a teacher who cares so much about her students because you end up having to do that much more work outside of the classroom.

Noozhawk: What are you most looking forward to this school year?

EMZ: Putting into practice everything my students taught me last year, strengthening my relationships with my students this year, and finding a better balance between doing enough for my students and not burning out.

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

EMZ: My mentor teacher, Tracy Womack, has been offering me advice and validation since I began student teaching in 2020. She began as my mentor teacher over Zoom and is now my colleague who continues to check in and offer her support.

I have also been learning so much from a fellow Math 8 teacher, Liz Lomeli, who is amazing. She took the time last year to introduce her new Math 8 team to the curriculum we use. She allowed me to observe her several times to learn how she taught lessons. And, even though she isn’t officially my mentor, she still lets me lean on her for support with curriculum, planning, professionalism and classroom management. She exemplifies in so many ways the teacher I strive to become, so I am super thankful that I get to learn from her.

I chose to begin my teaching career at La Colina Junior High specifically because I knew I would get to continue learning from these two great teachers.

Noozhawk: Who are the people in your life and work environment who support you every day?

EMZ: My parents and brothers are always supporting and encouraging me when they notice that I’m feeling stressed or doing too much. They are also always reminding me about how rewarding my job is and how much my students love me.

I also have three really close friends who are always willing to hear me rant or go on and on about how much my students have grown. One of those friends, Jasmine Enciso, helped me decorate my classroom to make sure it was inviting and a safe space. She still sends me TikToks or ideas on Pinterest of things I can add to my classroom to make it even better.

There are also a handful of staff at La Colina who make my job a lot easier because they always make me feel seen and supported. My Math 8 team is great about supporting each other.

I also super mega appreciate the head counselor at La Colina, Athena Sims. She helps me out a lot when it comes to working with my students and being supportive for them while making sure I am also OK.

Noozhawk: How does it feel to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers?

EMZ: Rewarding. Teachers do so much to support students that it feels nice when our work gets recognized. This is amazing, and I am super grateful to be one of the honorees. I just wish there would be opportunities for more teachers to get recognized because I am surrounded by some amazing teachers who do amazing work and who I get to learn from every day.