One of the most inspirational chalkboard champions I have learned about recently is Shanna Peeples, a high school English teacher from Amarillo, Texas. Shanna was honored this Wednesday by President Obama as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.
Shanna, who teaches at Palo Duro High School, is the first educator from the state of Texas to earn the national honor since 1957. The prestigious award was given to her in recognition for her dedication and service to immigrant students, primarily refugees from East Africa, many of whom came to Texas after spending time in Kakuma, a camp established in Kenya for displaced persons. Available jobs in feedlots and slaughterhouses attracted these refugee families to Amarillo.
Palo Duro Principal Sandy Whitlow says Shanna is a lifelong learner who inspires her students and colleagues. “Shanna can tailor instruction to the needs of her students, whether she is working with refugees who have suffered traumatic events in their lives, or AP students who crave challenging curriculum, or at-risk students who are attending school in the evenings to recover lost credits,” describes Whitlow. “The bottom line is that her students know she truly cares about them, and she will invest every ounce of energy in helping them attain their goals.”
Shanna teaches AP English and English III, and she serves as the English department chair. She also serves as an instructional coach for other teachers. Not only does Shanna teach her regular day classes, but she also instructs an evening credit recovery program for pregnant teens and young people just released from juvenile detention. Shanna says the most important thing she does as an educator is to make every one of her students feel valued. “That’s what we all need,” she says. “We need kindness. We need understanding, and we need a sense of belonging. Kindness is probably my first and best lesson.”
After President Obama presented the crystal apple award to the Lone Star educator, he recognized fifty-four other deserving chalkboard champions from around the country. “I think what it takes to make a great teacher is somebody who just loves what they do, who loves kids and who loves to bring out the potential in every kid,” Shanna expressed at the Rose Garden ceremony.
She represents all of us in the profession very well indeed.