Texan named Teacher of the Year President Barack Obama presents 2015 Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples, an English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas, with her award during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House (- Reuters)
Texan named Teacher of the Year
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A high school English teacher in Texas who works with students facing poverty and traumas related to their immigration to the United States has been named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.

Shanna Peeples from Amarillo was selected for the honor by the Council of Chief State School Officers. She is the first Texas teacher to win the award since 1957.

Peeples works at Palo Duro High, where about 85 percent of students live below the poverty line and where more refugee children are enrolled than in any other high school in the 31,000-student district.

She was recognized by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House on April 29.

Peeples said a childhood that exposed her to alcoholism and domestic violence has provided her with empathy for students from Burma, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq and Cuba, many of whom are survivors of emotional or physical trauma in their war-torn homelands. That can make trust difficult, she said.

"That's what helped me as a teacher probably more than anything, that I have that connection with them, unfortunately," Peeples said. "You can't really learn when you're scared."

Texas has led the U.S. in refugee resettlements for the last four years. Most are settled in large cities, but immigrant populations also are thriving in more remote areas, including Amarillo.

The 50-year-old mother of three grown children, whose teachers when she was young urged her to write to find a way out of her pain and isolation, began teaching after working as a disc jockey, medical assistant, pet sitter and journalist at the Amarillo Globe-News, where she covered education. She's taught for 12 years, the past seven at Palo Duro.

Peeples, who was nominated by a Palo Duro colleague and won campus, district, region and state teacher of the year honors, teaches AP English and serves as the English department chair as well as an instructional coach for other teachers.

One former student knows there are plenty of selfless teachers in Texas and across the country. But Peeples has something intangible, said Viet Tran, a college junior who believes he wouldn't be at Harvard studying neurobiology on a scholarship without Peeples' help.

"The reason for her being a special teacher is she is able to bridge a very wide gap of both student achievement and student experience," said the 21-year-old junior who came to the U.S. in 1998 from Vietnam. "She teaches kids who have never been in a classroom before and students who want to go to Ivy League schools."

On occasion, she has spoken with refugee parents who wanted their children to get jobs so they could contribute financially to the family, rather than attend school.

"She tries to help the parents in families understand that their (child's) future is really in education," Tran said.

Peeples is a "brilliant" teacher who is animated and captivating, Palo Duro principal Sandy Whitlow said.

"She continually tries to improve herself as a teacher," Whitlow said. "She is like an onion there are so many layers to her."

Peeples was selected from among four finalists named in January. The other three teachers hail from Alabama, Hawaii and Indiana. Peeples will spend a year traveling the nation to represent educators and advocate on behalf of teachers.

"I hope to remind people that public school teachers are amazing, dedicated, hard-working, smart and gifted people," she said. "There are great things (at schools across the country) that happen every day. It's not flashy or dramatic."

Critical thinking challenge: How does naming a Teacher of the Year" improve education?

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COMMENTS (9)
  • brianp-Che
    5/04/2015 - 11:46 a.m.

    This is great i had no idea there could be a teacher of the year award on a national scale. I thought it was all local, but apparently not . Still, Shanna Peeples sounds like a really great teacher who deserved the award. Working with that many kids who are below the poverty line really makes me wonder why the number is so high though.

  • MarilynEngelhardt
    5/04/2015 - 01:13 p.m.

    As much as some people don't like school, they don't realize how much they need it. Education can pretty much get you anywhere. I did some further research and read that you become teacher of the year by inspiring students with all backgrounds and abilities to learn, you have to have respect for students, parents, and colleagues, play in an active and useful role in helping not just the school, but the community, and you have to possess the energy to withstand a taxing schedule.

  • vancer-Che
    5/04/2015 - 01:45 p.m.

    Glad to see a teacher like this who does more than just teach. I like this article and believe other teachers should follow her example

  • stephanieg-Che
    5/04/2015 - 01:57 p.m.

    I think she is doing a good thing because some kids that face poverty don't have the same resources or opportunities as most kids do. Also if the kids parents are immigrants then the parents could be scared that they might get separated from there kids.

  • brookef-Goo
    5/06/2015 - 08:38 a.m.

    Naming a "Teacher of the Year" improves education. The text states, "She continually tries to improve herself as a teacher," meaning that teachers are always trying to improve to get teacher of the year. The text also states, "I hope to remind people that public school teachers are amazing, dedicated, hard-working, smart and gifted people," meaning that if the teachers do good it will make the students better. The evidence from the text clarifies why naming a "Teacher of the Year" improves education.

  • joshn-Koc
    5/10/2015 - 11:50 p.m.

    By naming a "Teacher of The Year", it improves education. How? Teachers will now feel like they have to compete on who is the better teacher. It means that they will put more into teaching and that will result in better educated students.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    5/11/2015 - 01:10 p.m.

    Teachers are an undeniably important resource. Often, its a thankless job. And i truly believe that the future of america lies in the hands of the passionate teacher. So, for me, Teacher of the Year is a massively important title that cannot be undervalued.

  • erikh-Goo
    5/12/2015 - 09:23 a.m.

    Teacher of the year improves education. The text states "where about 85 percent of students live below the poverty line and where more refugee children are enrolled than in any other high school in the 31,000-student district." The text also states " serves as the English department chair as well as an instructional coach for other teachers." The evidence from the text suggest that teacher of the year improved education because it makes teachers strive for more.

  • tonip-Koc
    5/17/2015 - 05:24 p.m.

    I think that Shanna Peeples deserved the award she was giving of teacher of the year. She really helped her students out that were povered and needed that help from her.

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