National Teacher of the Year delivers powerful message

Peeples is shaping the conversation about working with students in poverty

Monday, February 22, 2016

Shanna Peeples didn’t set out to be the best teacher in the nation. As a matter of fact, she didn’t want to be a teacher. Teaching found her. “I tried to be anything but a teacher, because I didn’t think it was glamorous,” said Peeples who held a variety of jobs before becoming a teacher.

She was a D.J. in west Texas before moving to California where she held various positions including pet sitter for the rich and famous of Beverly Hills. It wasn’t until she got a job as a newspaper reporter that she discovered an interest in education. Peeples found that the more she covered stories in schools, the more she wanted to be a teacher.

“It was the scariest, hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done and probably the most glamorous,” said Peeples. “I’ve met some of the most interesting people and done the most interesting things because I’m a teacher.”

As the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, she is shaping the conversation about working with students in poverty, those who have already faced extreme challenges in their young lives. She has traveled across the country and around the world to speak with students, educators and future teachers. Faculty and students with the School of Education welcomed her to Bloomington on February 19th, when she shared her experiences as an educator and National Teacher of the Year.

Shanna Peeples and Kathy Nimmer

Shanna Peeples with Indiana Teacher of the Year Kathy Nimmer

“I’ve learned through my travels that teachers are the bearers of hope,” she said referring to a trip to the Middle East where she spoke with teachers at a school in Gaza that had been damaged by rocket fire. “Can you imagine how hard it is to tell a student that their dreams matter when there are holes in the ceiling from rocket fire,” she said. “These teachers hold their students faces and look at them every day and say, ‘You matter. Your dreams matter.’ That is a heroic mantle that you put on when you choose to teach.”

Shanna Peeples teaches English at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo is of one of several cities in the U.S. that helps refugees find new paths in life and gain access to crucial resources. Many of her students are refugees who speak English as a second language. 

“My students have shaped the kind of teacher I am,” she says. “They have taught me to never make a promise I can’t keep because so many already have learned to see the world through suspicious eyes. To be the best teacher to them, I have to remember this and honor their background. I remember so I can gain their trust because I want them to read and write their way out of where they are.” 

Peeples emphasized that teaching gives you the chance to live a life of true meaning and purpose, “I tried all these other careers and nothing gave me a sense of purpose and meaning. Only teaching fed my spirit.”

Her presentation was sponsored by the INSPIRE Living-Learning Center and the Office of Recruitment and Retention for Underrepresented Students in the School of Education.