High school English teacher Shanna Peeples has been named the 2015 National Teacher of the Year. She is the 13th English teacher to take the honor in the prize’s 64-year history.
Peeples, a teacher for 12 years, was announced as the winner today on “CBS This Morning.” She currently works at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas, splitting time between teaching and instructional coaching.
The school has an almost 91 percent graduation rate, although 83 percent of students qualify as economically disadvantaged. Many of the school’s students are refugees, Peeples told CBS, and she emphasized both there and on her NTOY application that teachers need to remember the struggles their students face on a daily basis.
“My students, survivors of deep and debilitating trauma, have shaped the kind of teacher I am,” Peeples wrote on her application. “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.”
Palo Duro teachers benefit from a district policy that mandates a collaborative planning hour every day. Peeples told Education Week Teacher that grade-level teams meet to help create assessments or offer feedback of videotaped lessons, among other activities. She chairs an English department of 33 teachers.
“It is teachers coming together and truly collaborating and trying to share best practice, because it really is such complex work,” she said. “It takes everybody’s brain, it takes everybody’s creativity.”
And it’s reflective of the kind of collaboration that can be supported in public schools, for which Peeples is a strong advocate. Saying that the public school system is often taken for granted, she said that, over the next year, she hopes to help people “feel a little bit of pride in our public schools.”
Peeples is also an advocate for more portfolio-based and performance assessments, writing on her NTOY application that, “Our current assessments do a decent job of showing us what our students know, but not so much about what they can do.”
As for the job itself, Peeples said that great teachers often fly under the radar.
“It’s an easy job to take for granted because so many teachers are in the classroom every day with their head down taking care of business,” she told CBS.
Peeples was selected from among four finalists by a panel of representatives from 15 national education organizations, convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Last year, the honor went to Sean McComb, a high school English teacher in Maryland.
The panel bases their selection on each candidate’s ability to inspire, respect from colleagues, community involvement, and capability to represent the profession.
A ceremony honoring Peeples and the other state teachers of the year will be held this Wednesday at the White House.
Image courtesy of CCSSO.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.