Innovative teaching secrets from the U.S. ‘Teacher of the Year’

Photo: Shanna Peeples, 2015 U.S. National Teacher of the Year standing in front of the Albert Einstein Memorial Statue, Washington DC (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

“I asked my school for a karaoke machine. The kids love ‘Billie Jean,’” says Shanna Peeples, 2015 U.S. National Teacher of the Year.  A secondary school English teacher in Amarillo, Texas, Peeples’ class is full of refugees, many who know little English. Using pop music hits like “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson helps students break down words and sentences they know in song, and enjoy learning at the same time.

Honored by President Obama, Peeples represents 3.2 million American teachers as the National Teacher of the Year. In this role, she traveled around the Middle East, meeting with government officials, teachers and students to focus public attention on teaching and to share best practices from the United States. “Teachers around the world are my colleagues,” says Peeples about the ultimate goal of helping children succeed around the world.

Peeples makes extensive use of current technology — something her kids use every day. By incorporating learning strategies with mobile phones, her students are able to stay entertained and develop visual literacy skills already activated through technology use.

When asked how she is able to connect with students, many of whom have recently experienced trauma, Peeples empathizes, “It’s hard to learn from someone when you’re scared, so smiling is something that not only translates into any language, but also instantly sets people at ease.”