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 has been named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year. She works with students facing poverty and traumas related to their immigration to the United States.

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. About 85 percent of the school's students live below the poverty line. More refugee children are enrolled there 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 are survivors of emotional or physical trauma. They come from war-torn homelands. That can make trust difficult, she said.

"That's what helped me as a teacher probably more than anything. 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 is the mother of three grown children. When she was young, Peoples' teachers urged her to write to find a way out of her pain and isolation. She began teaching after working as a disc jockey, medical assistant, pet sitter and journalist at the Amarillo Globe-News. It was there that she covered education. She's taught for 12 years, the past seven at Palo Duro.

Peeples was nominated by a Palo Duro colleague. She won campus, district, region and state teacher of the year honors. She teaches AP English and serves as the English department chair. She also is 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. He is a college junior. He believes he wouldn't be at Harvard studying neurobiology on a scholarship without Peeples' help.

"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.

She said she hopes to remind people that public school teachers are dedicated, hard-working, smart and gifted people.

"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 (19)
  • havenr-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 08:54 a.m.

    I believe more teachers need to be recognized for all that they do. I have tons of teachers I would love to see win an award for being such a great human being to tons and tons of students that walk through their door. Teachers are heros, and I would never think any different.

  • CarsonP-2
    5/04/2015 - 07:31 p.m.

    A high school English teacher in Texas 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.

  • annal-Eic
    5/05/2015 - 03:20 p.m.

    That would be a huge honor to be able to meet Barack Obama, but mostly being elected 'Teacher of the Year.' Congratulations Shanna Peeples!!

  • SydneyD-Kut
    5/05/2015 - 05:00 p.m.

    What mrs.peeples is doing for refugees is so sweet. I definitely think you'll be so hard to move from a country that's at war to Americana and have to start of the new school. It also helps that she grew up with the alcohol and the domestic violence background. I also think it's great that she talks with parents who want their kids to work instead of go to school . That is very unfair. All children are intitled to the right of education.

  • Eriku2
    5/05/2015 - 06:52 p.m.

    This article is about Teachers. Not any teachers but a specific teacher. it is about the teacher of the year. I think it is good to have this reward because any teacher could win.

  • BiancaB-3
    5/05/2015 - 09:21 p.m.

    This article is about a high school teacher who was given the award of National teacher of the year. She is a high school English teacher from Texas. She is the first Texas teacher to win the award since 1957. Shanna Peeple works with children all over the world improving our environment every day. I think she is a great role model for other teachers, and hopefully she will inspire others with her great deeds.

  • chrisr-boo
    5/06/2015 - 11:22 a.m.

    Because it shows the children that the teachers are doing their jobs right and teaching the right way. The kids may feel more comfortable with the teacher

  • Nylasiab201
    5/06/2015 - 01:27 p.m.

    What this teacher does is very powerful. She should probably go around the world and teach other students so they can see how powerful she is.

  • oliviaswmsteam1
    5/07/2015 - 10:59 a.m.

    How she had a connection with the children refugees and was able to help them learn and help young refugees who have never been in a classroom.

  • braylonnwmsteam1
    5/07/2015 - 01:45 p.m.

    She has done great things for those kids I bet but I hope she doesn't really care about the award yeah its a big honor to be the BEST teacher in the nation but to me I would care more about the kids than that award great job though!!

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