"It worked so well I tried introducing my children as 'my little neurosurgeons,' laughed Benz, "but it didn't have the same effect."
This year her mother would be particularly proud of her little teacher, who has garnered a very large honor as District Teacher of the Year for the Oakley Union School District, her second such award since 2003. She was recognized at a district dinner earlier this month.
"Of course it's an incredible honor, but it is a little overwhelming," said Benz, who teaches first grade at Laurel Elementary. "There are so many others who are worthy. Our staff here is fantastic. It's a real team success."
Growing up on the family farm in Brentwood, a home in which she raised three children and in which she still lives, Benz had always planned on being a teacher. However, fearing that a teaching career looked a little precarious in the wake of the passage of Proposition 13, Benz obtained a degree in ornamental horticulture and enjoyed a career tending to the foliage at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.
But when her children started going to school, she decided to go back with them, and eventually earned her teaching credential. Nine years ago she came to Laurel Elementary, and it's been full-steam ahead ever since.
In her spare time, Benz serves on the Brentwood school board, teaches after-school reading to needy students and has been on the front lines as a volunteer for the Band Booster Club, Odyssey of the Mind and Grad Night functions.
"I'm just someone who does what everyone else does," said Benz. "When you love what you do, it doesn't feel like work."
With a first-grade class this year, Benz is out of the fray of the more controversial education issues such as state testing and homework load. But she does concede that some of the state's goals for certain grade levels can be difficult.
"It's hard sometimes, especially for the little ones," said Benz. "Because there are some things that they are just not ready to do developmentally. So you just go slow and patiently, and they all eventually get it."
It is her first-graders' energy and enthusiasm that make the classroom such a wonderful place to be. "I love first grade," she said. "They just want to be with you and hold your hand. They are so sweet."
But they are not always so well behaved, admitted student Ryan Wilson.
"Mrs. Benz talks nice, but sometimes she does get mad," said Ryan, 6. "But that's because the boys run around and don't listen. I still like her."
Jake Rounsaville, 7, is also a big fan. "She's fun, and she gives us good jobs to do like coloring," he said.
When asked where she plans to be in the next 10 years, Benz responded without hesitation, "Oh, right here at Laurel. I'll be here and home on the farm."