For Shanna Peeples and Whitney Crews, teaching found them, in spite of attempts from others to lure them into some other — any other — profession. In October 2014, these two educators were both honored with the state’s top teaching award for providing their students with a sense of hope, a love for learning, and endless possibilities for their future.
Peeples, who teaches 11th grade English at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo ISD, was named the 2015 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. Peeples will also represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year competition. (See update: Peeples named 2015 National Teacher of the Year)
Crews, a sixth-grade English language arts teacher at E.J. Moss Intermediate in Lindale ISD was named the 2015 Elementary Teacher of the Year. Peeples and Crews learned of their top honor at a special ceremony and luncheon at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, sponsored by TASA. Each received a cash award, a commemorative trophy, and other prizes.
In addition to the state’s top two educators, the 34 Regional Teachers of the Year, along with the other four state finalists — Katherine Cass (Chisum ISD), Stephanie Green (Ector County ISD), Christine Amerson (Victoria ISD), and Irene Kistler (North East ISD) — were also honored.
“Congratulations to Shanna and Whitney for being not only outstanding educators, but for taking time to truly connect with their students, showing them that the possibilities for their future are limitless,” said Johnny Veselka, Executive Director of TASA. “The teachers we are honoring today are deeply committed to supporting, guiding, instructing, and encouraging each and every student, and do so with little fanfare. But today, please help me celebrate these Teachers of the Year, along with all the devoted teachers across the state who have made a difference in a student’s life.”
In their Teacher of the Year applications, each educator offered insight into their teaching backgrounds, philosophy and style.
Shanna Peeples, Texas Teacher of the Year
A high school English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo ISD, Peeples writes:“It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love, the ad said about the Peace Corps, but it’s also a perfect slogan to describe my relationship with teaching and learning. Teaching chose me, but I tried everything I could think of to avoid its call: disc jockey, medical assistant, pet babysitter for the rich, journalist, and finally, finally a teacher.”
Her fear of teaching was a fear of connecting to pain in her own life. Luckily, Peeples had teachers who encouraged her to see that there was life outside of her own personal struggles, and she was drawn to teaching to do the very same thing for others.
“My students, survivors of deep and debilitating trauma, have shaped the kind of teacher I am. 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. Books, I tell them, help us find our way out of the forest, so to speak, and help us make peace with our past while showing us the promise of a multitude of futures. And so, in a sense, I sell hope to my students.”
Whitney Crews, Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year
A sixth-grade English teacher at E.J. Moss Intermediate in Lindale ISD, Crews writes: “Often, teachers come from a long line of teachers. In my case, I am the first in my family. Most everything I do stems from my beliefs that teaching is a calling AND a talent, I must teach the whole child, and I am preparing children for the world, not just for the next grade. I feel like it is my responsibility to provide them with as many opportunities as I can in the short time that I have them. Some of my students never leave Lindale or eat in a restaurant, much less travel abroad. How can I bring them the world is a question that drives many of my plans. Knowing basic math and reading sure takes them places, but if that’s all they needed, school could end at third grade.
“My prayer is that my students are learning to LEARN! If they don’t know the answer, how do they find it? My rewards in teaching come from seeing the way students take ownership in their learning and make that connection from the classroom to their own lives and the world around them. Sometimes it comes in very small steps, but that is how every journey begins.”