A love of learning and strong connections to students are abundantly evident in the 2020 California Teachers of the Year. The educators, all CTA members, were announced by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in October.
“These five incredible teachers receive this prestigious honor for their focus, drive and determination to teach young people in California,” Thurmond said in a statement. “They make profound differences in the lives of their students and their communities by employing innovative strategies to increase academic success and narrow the achievement gap among a broad range of students.”
California Teachers of the Year act as ambassadors for the profession. The 2020 awardees are:
Sean Bui, Fremont Education Association, a ninth through 12th grade English language development and business law teacher at Cupertino High School. Thurmond has nominated Bui as California’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year competition; the 2020 National Teacher of the Year will be announced in the spring.
Bui came to the Fremont Union High School District nine years ago. Besides teaching, he advises the Mock Trial Club and is the voice of the Pioneers on the football field. District staff say that Bui “strives to create a supportive and inclusive culture on campus, whether that means designing activities to help ELD students feel more at home or working with struggling students to relieve stress and have fun.”
Bui’s colleagues note his “bubbly personality” and “joy in the teaching profession,” and say he is a force for good in the world. Indeed, he says he’d rather be at school making a positive influence on a kid than anywhere else.
Brenda Chavez-Barreras, Perris Elementary Teachers Association, a kindergarten teacher at Good Hope Elementary School in Perris, Riverside County. Chavez-Barreras immigrated to the U.S. at age 16, not speaking English, but was an honor roll student by the time she graduated high school, according to the Riverside County Office of Education.
She has been a teacher for 22 years. At Palms Elementary, where she previously taught, she led the California Association for Bilingual Educators program and founded an English-language tutoring initiative to help students before and after school.
Mandy Kelly, Saddleback Valley Educators Association, a sixth grade multiple-subject teacher at Trabuco Mesa Elementary School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Orange County (she’s done previous stints as a kindergarten and fourth grade teacher). Kelly uses virtual reality and other emerging technologies in her classroom and trains teachers in these technologies as well. She has helped design curriculum focused on math development, English language arts sequencing, engagement strategies, Next Generation Science Standards, and other subjects.
“I have had such amazing teachers growing up, and I always wanted to make them proud and be my own version of them,” Kelly said in an Orange County Register story. “It’s a wonderful reminder and a way for me to celebrate that I am continuing the line of great teachers who influenced me.”
Guy Myers, Burbank Teachers Association, a ninth through 12th grade drama and musical theater teacher at John Burroughs High School in Burbank. Myers was honored last April by the Burbank Arts for All Foundation, and was named the Burroughs High School Teacher of the Year earlier this year, the district Teacher of the Year in April, and a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year in September.
“It is a humbling and overwhelming honor to be chosen as one of the Teachers of the Year for California,” Myers told MyBurbank. “I grew up in public schools, and I am made up from all of the wonderfully supportive and caring teachers who nurtured me along the way.”
Katya Robinson, West Sonoma County Teachers Association, a kindergarten through third grade special education teacher at West Sonoma County Consortium School in Sebastopol. According to the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, Robinson wrote in her application that while her students learn in different ways, “my standards and vision for them remain high because I see their place in the world.”
“I believe it’s the educator’s job to open doors for our students, especially during their early years,” she told Sonoma West Times & News. “I spend a lot of time creating opportunities to learn and breaking down boundaries to their learning.”
The 15-year teacher lost her house in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. The call from Thurmond to tell her of her award came as she was walking through her newly rebuilt home.
County offices of education nominate California Teachers of the Year applicants through county-level competitions. California Department of Education (CDE) selection committees review applications; conduct site visits to evaluate teachers’ rapport with students, classroom environments, presentation skills, and teaching techniques; and interview the teachers. The state superintendent then selects the five California Teachers of the Year and the National Teacher of the Year nominee.
The program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage aspiring educators. The awards are presented by California Casualty and supported by the California Teachers of the Year Foundation.
“Great teachers are the core of a great educational system,” said Thurmond. “Yes, teaching changes lives of individual students, but beyond that, teachers show us all that all children can achieve, no matter who they are.” Thurmond and the CDE will fete the 2020 honorees at a gala in January.
For more information about the program, see cde.ca.gov/ta/sr/ct.