Alyssa Spanier
Alyssa Spanier of Solvang School in Solvang is being honored as a Salute to Teachers 2023 Distinguished Mentor. (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

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?

Alyssa Spanier: I had many positive experiences when I was a student, and I had many teachers I looked up to. It was a community that I enjoyed being a part of, whether I was a student in a classroom or a volunteer helping at the after-school program.

I also had an aunt who worked as a teacher. I saw how much joy and satisfaction her work brought her, and I loved volunteering in her classroom. As I grew up, I continued to work with kids through tutoring, babysitting and summer camps, and found my passion for teaching.

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

AS: I started my career in education in 2010 with preschool-age students, first as a preschool teacher and later as a site supervisor. Then, in 2012, I moved to South Korea with my husband and taught English in Korean public schools for two years.

When I returned to California, I worked as a long-term substitute in a third-grade classroom while I applied for other teaching positions. I have been teaching middle school since 2015.

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

AS: I am an English teacher, and I love being able to teach and talk books. One of my favorite lessons is called the Book Tasting, and the goal of the lesson is to help students select independent reading books that are of interest and that are appropriately challenging.

For this lesson, students are given the opportunity to explore the classroom library and sample several different books with the goal of creating a TBR (to be read) list.

The final task in the lesson involves a “social hour” in which the students mingle and discuss the different books they sampled. This gives them the opportunity to talk books and get recommendations from their peers.

Many middle school students have come to believe that they don’t like reading, however, with the right book they can find that same joy they had when they first started reading.

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

AS: The collaborative atmosphere and the sense of purpose the work provides.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

AS: The most challenging thing about this job is not having the time to do all of the things I need to do in the way I would like to do them.

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

AS: This year we have a new Leadership class that I have the pleasure of teaching. It is a great group of students with a lot of exciting ideas. I am looking forward to supporting the students as they implement their plans to make our campus even more awesome.

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

AS: One of my original mentors was my aunt, Lisa Kuehn. She was one of the people who got me interested in becoming a teacher and she supported me throughout the entire process.

Also, my mentor teachers throughout my student teaching, Elizabeth Lavezzi and Nancy Berry, both gave me invaluable guidance with regard to managing a classroom and developing meaningful lessons.

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

AS: There are many people who support me every day in my personal and professional life. Teaching is very important to me, and those who are closest to me know and understand that. My husband, my mom, my dad, my siblings and my friends have all been there to offer me support in some form or another.

At work, it is my relationships with my colleagues, and the successes and challenges that we share that push me to continue to grow as an educator.

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

AS: I feel very proud to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers, especially as a Distinguished Mentor.