What does it take for an educator to be named Teacher of the Year? For Beth Bowers and Shannon Klemann, it’s about doing what they love while giving the next generation the skills, mindset and compassion they will need to be productive adults in a rapidly changing world.
After a career in banking and becoming the mother of a son with Down syndrome, Beth Bowers joined the Ventura County Office of Education in 2012 as a paraeducator providing classroom support to teachers and students.
She was so inspired by the work that she went back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential, “and graduated when I was 55,” said the Santa Rosa Valley resident. She’s been a special education teacher for nearly six years and now works with 6th to 8th grade students who have moderate to severe disabilities at Las Colinas Middle School in Camarillo.
“Beth is an incredible teacher who is committed to improving her students’ learning outcomes in every area,” says Rob Scheerger, principal of Las Colinas Middle School. “Her lessons exhibit creativity and ingenuity. She has specialized skills that help her work well with challenging students. She has cultivated a deep connection and commitment to her school site and the community, which thereby facilitates her students’ ability to thrive.”
Beth’s dedication earned her the 2022 Teacher of the Year award for schools operated by the Ventura County Office of Education—VCOE. She will now be in the running for the Ventura County Teacher of the Year award, which is open to all teachers countywide.
Beth found out she was being honored in late April when her family and friends, Principal Scheerger, and Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Dr. César Morales made a surprise visit to her classroom. Also on hand to break the good news were VCOE Associate Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Consuelo Hernandez Williams, VCOE Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Lisa Salas Brown, and VCOE Executive Director of Special Education Holly Minear.
“Winning Teacher of the Year has been an incredible honor,” Beth says. “I have my sons' prior teachers and the incredible mentors to thank for my success. I am riding on their coat tails.”
Born and raised in Ohio, Beth came to California in 1980.
“My son was educated in the county program,” she recalls. “I was grateful for what VCOE did for my son and I wanted to give back. I desired to be a special education teacher, specifically for VCOE.”
Unlike other programs, “VCOE has a ‘push in’ model that meets our student therapeutic needs right in the classroom,” she explains. “Teachers and paraeducators are given direction and training from specialists to implement strategies to meet students' needs throughout the school day.”
Beth’s greatest reward “is seeing student success.”
“When you watch a student try and try and then you experience the moment when they got it—it gives me chills,” she emphasizes. “I really want everything I teach to have relevance. I think about their future and the skills I can begin working on now in middle school that will help them be successful adults. It is a joyful journey.”
One of Beth’s many innovative initiatives involves creating interactions between students who have disabilities and those who don’t. Through her Peer Tutoring program, general education students from Las Colinas visit her classroom to work with her students. Students from both groups end up discovering they have more in common than they realized.
“Beth Bowers exemplifies the incredible impact that a teacher can have,” says Dr. Morales. “She builds meaningful relationships with her students, their family members and her coworkers to maximize opportunities for growth and learning. We are truly fortunate to have her as part of the VCOE family.”
Beth noted that she started a tradition during her first year of teaching.
“Each year I purchase a birdhouse for a tree just outside my kitchen window. Students sign and write messages on the birdhouse. Then they are sealed so the writing stays.”
This year, she will be adding birdhouse number six.
“Whenever I look out that kitchen window, I see the birdhouses and smile because I am reminded on how blessed I am to have had these special learners in my life.”
A veteran educator who has taught in Oxnard Union High School District schools for 23 years, Shannon Klemann from Adolfo Camarillo High School has been named the 2022 Ventura County Teacher of the Year.
“Coming from a family of teachers—my husband, his parents, and my daughter now at Berkeley studying to be a biology teacher—I accept this honor on behalf of all teachers who are, in general, a hard-working group of people that put a ton of heart into their profession,” Shannon says. “I am proud to be chosen to represent my colleagues.”
She currently teaches biology in Grades 9 through 12 at Adolfo Camarillo High School, where her Principal, Matt La Belle, said she showed extraordinary initiative in keeping her students engaged with learning when classrooms were closed due to the pandemic. She kept her hands-on curriculum relevant by conducting labs over video, having students submit data on their experiments in real-time, and encouraging students to interact with text chat if they were hesitant to participate on camera.
Principal La Belle says Shannon’s dedication to teaching is clear the moment you step into her classroom.
“Entering Mrs. Klemann’s classroom is like entering a hands-on science museum,” he says. “After walking past the bright orange nasturtiums blossoming from the compost box that sits near the entrance of her room, where earthworms happily munch on banana peels, carrots, and old recycled books, students are welcomed into a world of biology…Mrs. Klemann’s students are surrounded by and engaged in biology all period, all week, all year.”
Looking back on her life as a teacher so far, “I am proud that students who have passed through my life can make connections that are important in their transformation into mature, responsible citizens who contribute positively to our society,” Shannon says. “I suppose this is more of a hope than an accomplishment, but in 23 years, I have seen evidence this is true. I have had students contact me and let me know the amazing things they are doing in the world. Sometimes I run into them around town and get to see, firsthand, their accomplishments.”
Her desire to become a teacher was inspired by “some amazing teachers in high school.” One of them was her biology teacher and another was a humanities teacher, who “definitely inspired me,” however, “I did not set out to be a teacher.”
It was her passion for the environment and marine biology that “shaped the educator in me.”
She set out to study biology from the beginning, but halfway through studying at Cal Poly, she became involved in outdoor education, teaching in a county outdoor school, instructing for a travelling sea school—and even doing six months in the Florida Keys, teaching marine biology.
“I found that I absolutely loved taking something I had a passion for—biology and the environment—and transferring that passion to my students,” Shannon says. “I guess you could say that I have been inspired by nature in addition to some key teachers in my life. After 23 years, I still love my career. I love creating opportunities for students to explore science.”
As she plans her lessons, Shannon is always looking for ways to make storylines—particularly local ones about Channel Islands National Park—come alive.
“I get the opportunity to visit the Channel Islands each year with my students,” she says. “There is nothing more rewarding than watching students as they witness the wildlife of our national park firsthand.”
As she coaches students through the exploration opportunities she sets before them, “I have the honor of watching them discover moments of understanding. These lightbulb moments are one of my favorite parts of teaching.”
Shannon’s greatest hope for students is that “they go out into the world and contribute in a positive way to society and that whatever they endeavor to do, they keep in mind human and environmental costs.”
“Whether they become people of business, medicine, law, agriculture, industry, trade or education, they do so with a conscience,” she adds. “I want my students to live, travel, learn, help and simply be good people that are able to look back on their lives and find reward in their careers as I have been fortunate enough to do.”