Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd
Shanna Peeples was recently named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year. Peeples is a Palo Duro High English teacher from Amarillo, Texas who works mainly with students that live in poverty. The high school enrolls a higher percentage of refugee children than the other high schools within the district where nearly 85 percent of students are living below the poverty line.
Peeples attended a ceremony given at the White House where President Obama recognized her achievement. She attributes her empathy to impoverished and traumatized children to her childhood experiences with domestic violence and alcoholism.
The state of Texas has the largest population of refugees in the United States including children from war-torn areas like Iraq and Somalia. Peeples feels that she can identify with the children in her district and that has helped her gain their trust.
She worked a variety of jobs including being a disc jockey, pet sitter and medical assistant before settling on a teaching career 12 years ago and has been at Palo Alto High for seven years.
Viet Tran, a former student of Peeples, says that he owes his success as a student to her and he is now studying neurobiology at Harvard University. He believes her success lies in her ability to teach kids of all backgrounds.
Peeples is also the chair for the English department and an instructional coach for other instructors. Principal Sandy Whitlow called her “brilliant” and said she is constantly making improvements to herself and her teaching methods.
Fellow teachers at Palo Duro nominated Peeples for the award, for which she competed against three other finalists. She will now travel to the United States for the next 12 months as a representative and advocate for teachers where she will use the opportunity to emphasize the dedication of teachers within the public school system.