Dedicated Teacher Takes Top Honors

Sequoia Middle School Eighth Grade Instructor Shannon Baranski has many reasons to celebrate this year.

The 36-year-old Camarillo resident was recently awarded “Teacher of the Year,” having been named “Teacher of the Month” in April. The awards, given through collaboration with the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Conejo Valley Unified School District’s (CVUSD) “Teacher of the Month” program, recognize 10 nominated teachers throughout the year, one of which is named “Teacher of the Year.”

Baranski says she was blown away when she received the “Teacher of the Month” award.

“When you think about teaching and the validation it has, you often don’t get to know your impact until much later,” Baranski says. “When the students go on to high school and come back to visit you, that’s the reward you get when you’re a teacher.”

In a surprise ceremony, Baranski was named the 2017-2018 “Teacher of the Year,” crediting her coworkers for inspiring her.

“It is very humbling and so important for every teacher to get this validation,” says Baranski. “I am constantly inspired by my coworkers’ creativity and inter-disciplinary collaboration. You are only as strong as the team around you and I don’t know if I’d be as effective of a teacher without them.”

A CVUSD teacher for 12 years—5 at Sequoia Middle School—Baranski currently teaches English 8 CP and Honors classes in the school’s DISCOVER Academy, where students participate in English, history and science focused on central themes.

“I love the block schedule [90 minute class periods] where I see my students every other day,” says Baranski. “It gives me the time to look at the reading and genre of writing.”

While earning her bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in Education from Cal State Channel Islands, Baranski had the opportunity to gain experience in middle school classroom settings. It was there she discovered her love for the age group.

“I fell in love with the dynamics in that time of their life with all of their idiosyncrasies coming out of that ‘tweenager’ phase,” says Baranski.

Baranski’s teaching style includes Socratic seminars, where students lead the class discussion on topics they are studying. She incorporates technology into the classrooms by allowing students to use Chrome Books with educational Google apps. She is also a Google Certified Educator.

“I wanted to bring my teaching into the 21st century,” says Baranski. “As the years progress, if I don’t change my teaching to match how the students are learning at this dynamic stage in their lives, then what’s my impact? Every year I change my approach to match their needs and interests.”

In addition to teaching, Baranski also serves as the school’s English Department chair and as co-advisor for the Builder’s Club, where students come together to give back to the school and the community through activities such as book and food drives.

She is also the Where Everybody Belongs WEB advisor, which was created to help incoming sixth graders tackle the issue of bullying. Eighth graders who had previously been through the program are paired up with the sixth graders for team-building exercises, ice cream socials and discussions about study skills and stress and anxiety management in the classroom.

“It’s a great mentor program,” says Baranski.

Baranski’s dedication to helping others may have stemmed from her childhood. As the third oldest of 10 siblings, her mother called her a nurturer because of her commitment to taking care of the neighborhood kids.

“We would have five or six extra kids sitting at our dinner table,” says Baranski. 

Aside from her teaching duties, Baranski enjoys spending time at the beach or hiking with her husband Mike, daughter Evie, 6, and son Ethan, 2. Her typical day consists of waking up at 6:30 a.m., working through lunch, coming home to dinner by 6 p.m., tucking her kids into bed, then grading her students’ work.

“Having everything online makes tackling the grading easier,” says Baranski. “It’s not always about the finished product, it’s about me guiding the students through the process and giving them feedback every single day.”

Baranski also holds a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Grand Canyon University and sees herself working for a university in the future.

“I would love to do administration, but I want more time in the classroom for another 10 to 15 years,” says Baranski.

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