Crystal Guzman
Crystal Guzman of El Camino Junior High School in Santa Maria 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

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?

Crystal Guzman: I decided to become a teacher after meeting my second-grade teacher, Ms.Ortiz. She was young, trendy, energetic and very energetic. I remember thinking, “Geez, she’s so smart!”

As I continued my education, I met many exceptional teachers. Many of them celebrated my progress and challenged me to always do better!

The thought of being able to make a difference in a student’s life academically and emotionally was amazing to me. I became a teacher because I wanted to be that person for students. I’ve been fortunate to feel cared, loved and encouraged by my family, and I want to be able to provide that feeling for students who might not receive it at home — feelings that would make them successful in their lives’ education.

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

CG: This will be my fourth year teaching. Before teaching, I worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs in Santa Maria as a way to gain experience. It allowed me to learn how to make connections, to be creative, and how to communicate effectively with students, parents, school staff and the community.

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

CG: Poetry. It’s a great time to bring music and theater into the classroom. I love having fun in my class, so occasionally there is some karaoke that happens in the classroom. What I love most about teaching poetry is that students learn how to “vent” in a very creative way.

I get to know a lot about my students when poetry is our focus. We also get to share poetry that runs deep in our culture.

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

CG: Seeing how my students become confident learners is my favorite part. I love seeing and celebrating their progress, especially in English. I was once a student who struggled in English so I identify myself a lot with my students.

I love seeing teen faces light up when I give them a shout-out for reading confidently, being able to pronounce a difficult word, or for doing an exceptional job in their work. That is such a rewarding feeling.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

CG: One of the challenges is definitely being able to say “OK, I’m done for the day,” and having that time for yourself. As teachers we care so much about students and their success that it’s difficult to just “clock out” at the end of the day.

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

CG: This school year I’m looking forward to bringing back the fun school events. I am also teaching Leadership and running ASB at my school site, so bringing back those events is important. Having students socializing with one another in a safe manner is important, especially after being isolated for almost three years.

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

CG: My mentor is Joel Kringel. He has and continues to have a big impact on my career. I admire Joel’s ability to share out his concerns, ideas and questions. This is not always easy, especially being a new teacher, but he makes it look easy.

He reminded me that my voice mattered, too, in staff meetings. He reminded me that my ideas were also valid. Plus, he always looks at the positive things about life. I always appreciate our conversations. They are uplifting.

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

CG: My mentors in life! My family, as a whole, keeps me grounded. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for my grandparents who sacrificed so much in hopes of a better future for generations to come.

My parents, Estella and Gustavo, are a great example of what hard work and dedication can lead to. They give me strength and encouragement when I need it the most. If I could be half of the person they are, I would consider myself to be fortunate. My siblings are also my mentors; they never let me lose sight of my passion for teaching.

The rest of my family, especially my nieces and nephews, play a big role. I want to set a good example of following your dreams despite the challenges that you may face.

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

CG: My family has been celebrating with me since I shared with them that I was nominated for this award. When I told them that I was selected as a winner, text messages went off and so did the phone calls. We are that family.

I am very honored and grateful to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers. It has encouraged me to continue learning. I am currently enrolled with Cal Lutheran’s Graduate School of Education, and I hope to one day be a principal. I’m determined to make a positive impact in all of my students’ lives.