Texas English Teacher Named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

Shanna Peeples from Amarillo knows first hand the difficulty of growing up in a situation of domestic violence and alcoholism. Her empathy from this background helps her teach at Palo Duro High, which has more refugee students than any other high school in her district. Making things even more challenging is the fact that about 85% of the students at Palo Duro live below the poverty line.

Peoples is the first Texas teacher to be named teacher of the year since 1957 and was recognized by President Obama at a White House ceremony. A Palo Duro colleague nominated Peeples who won honors as teacher of the year for her campus, district, region, and state. She was chosen from among four finalists from around the country. Peeples will get to spend a year traveling the country to advocate on behalf of teachers and represent educators.

Her background lets her connect with students from war-torn countries such as Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Ethiopia, and Cuba. Trust can be difficult for many of these students who have survived emotional or physical trauma in their homelands.

According to her former student Viet Tran who is studying neurobiology at Harvard, Peebles can bridge a very wide gap of both student experience and achievement. Sometimes she speaks with refugee parents who want their children to get jobs rather than attend school. She tries to help these parents understand that their children’s future lies in education.

Peeples credits her teachers who encouraged her to write to deal with her pain and isolation when she was growing up. She has a varied professional background and had worked as a journalist covering education for the Amarillo Globe-News. Peeples has taught for 12 years and is currently the English Department Chair at her high school and teaches AP English.