Alumna Shanna Peeples worked as a disc jockey, medical assistant, pet sitter, and journalist before finding her true calling as a teacher.
Now she’s representing the nation’s 3 million educators as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, America’s oldest and most prestigious honor of its kind, bestowed by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Peeples teaches English at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, where 85 percent of the school’s students live below the poverty line. Many are refugees who speak English as a second language and recently entered the United States from war-torn regions.
“My students, survivors of deep and debilitating trauma, have shaped the kind of teacher I am,” she says. “They have taught me never to 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 is the first Texas teacher to win National Teacher of the Year since 1957 and the first UTA graduate to do so.
She earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in 2013 through an online program offered by the College of Education through Academic Partnerships.
“UTA’s Academic Partnerships program helped me do what I didn’t think was possible: earn my master’s degree while staying in the classroom,” she says. “I’m proud of UTA’s commitment to create more teacher-leaders in Texas and the U.S., and I’m proud to be a UTA alumna.”