Shanna Peeples earned her degree in Curriculum and Instruction because she wanted to help less fortunate kids have the same opportunities to learn as everybody else. And that’s exactly what she does on a daily basis at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas.
Shanna teaches a variety of courses, including AP English, English as a Second Language and special education for a district that has recently seen a dramatic rise in refugee students from third-world countries.
“Some had never seen indoor plumbing or used a kitchen,” Shanna said. “Some had no schooling whatsoever, so the first time they sat down in our chairs was the first time they had been cultured to a school setting. It was not normal to them.”
A former newspaper reporter, Shanna covered Amarillo ISD before deciding she wanted to be a bigger part of the education experience. In addition to teaching more traditional students, Shanna has thrived in helping acclimate her international learners to their new academic environment.
“The way language is used is important when talking about poverty,” Shanna said. “There is research out of the University of Kansas showing that by the time a child in poverty goes to school in first grade, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child in middle class. That is staggering.”
For her prestigious award, Peeples took a trip to the White House and met President Barack Obama. She was named the top teacher in the nation among 3.2 million educators. Shanna is the first Texas teacher to be named National Teacher of the Year since 1957.
“I think the key to motivation is to realize that teaching is not so much a skill as it is an art form,” Shanna said. “Like art, things happen. Epiphanies happen. New things happen you weren’t expecting. That, to me, is what’s exciting. You can count on that with teaching – that’s a guarantee. Teaching is the only job I’ve ever loved that loved me back.”