Shanna Peeples has been named 2015 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Peeples teaches English at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Tex. (Amarillo Independent School District)

Shanna Peeples was a country music disc jockey, a medical assistant, a pet sitter and a journalist before she finally gave in to a longtime urge and became a public school teacher.

“I knew it was going to be really all-consuming,” said Peeples, a high school English teacher from Texas who on Monday was named the 2015 Teacher of the Year, an honor bestowed by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“I was a little scared of it; I put it off, trying to find all these other things I could do that wouldn’t be so demanding.”

But the more time she spent in schools as an education reporter for the Amarillo Globe News, the more clear her path to the classroom became. “I realized that I liked the kids more than I liked writing about the kids,” said Peeples, who began teaching 13 years ago.

She says she was drawn to teaching in part because of the important role that teachers had played in her own life.

Amarillo (Tex.) Independent School District graduates explain how Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples affects students' lives. (Amarillo Independent School District)

“I share a lot in common with the students that I teach,” said Peeples, an AP English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo. When she was growing up, Peeples said, her family struggled with “addiction, domestic violence and the kind of poverty that comes from what happens when your parents divorce.”

“It’s hard, and I had teachers who made school like my safe place and who gave me a real sense of belonging, and treated me with such kindness. I never forgot that. It went deep into me. It doesn’t matter what I teach, it really matters how I make that kid feel, each student, what they feel before they leave me each day. I think, ‘How can I make this kid feel safe, welcome, give them some sense of small success?’ ”

When she was young, her teachers put books and paper in front of her and taught that “words can take you up and out of the worst situations,” Peeples said.

As 2015 Teacher of the Year, Peeples will spend a year traveling across the country as an advocate for public education and for teachers.

“There’s just a lot of fear surrounding education right now,” said Peeples, who will be honored at the White House on Wednesday. “I would hope people would turn that fear around into faith in the fact that our teachers really care about what they’re doing and really care about the kids that they teach.”

Peeples said she wants to focus on the best ways to teach and support low-income public school students.

“A majority of public school students now come from poverty,” Peeples said. “What comes with that is a kid who maybe can’t hear because he had an untreated ear infection. Or kids who didn’t get any sleep because they had to move in the middle of the night because their family couldn’t pay rent, or because Mom or Dad got arrested.”

Teachers are facing all kinds of challenges in their classrooms, beyond pure academics, Peeples said. And in an era of accountability, teachers are sometimes blamed instead of celebrated, she said.

“Public school teachers are gladiators for children,” said Peeples, who chairs her English department and serves as an instructional coach for other teachers at her school. “What they do is amazing and it is honorable and noble work. Public schools are America’s best thing that we give the world. We are the only country that opens its doors, that says, ‘Come on in, we don’t care who you are. We’ll help you.’ That’s not an easy promise, but there are a million teachers who try to deliver on that promise every day.”

On the hot-button issue of standardized testing, Peeples said she would like to see a movement toward multiple, creative measures of student achievement.

“Standardized testing has been around always,” she said. “I think they do a decent job of telling us where kids are right now, but I don’t think they do a great job of showing us where they can go.”

For example, Peeples sometimes throws out a challenge to her students. She gives them a ping-pong ball and tells them their task is to propel the ball as far as they can by using a file folder, a rubber band or a paper clip.

“No one ever chooses the paper clip,” Peeples said. Except one year, a student named William who had hearing loss and some learning disabilities chose the paper clip. He bent it into a holder, picked up the ping-pong ball and walked it all the way down the hall, Peeples said. “Now, William struggles on that standardized test, yes. But look at what he could do, think of the creativity and the ingenuity it took for him to come up with the paper clip idea. We need to find ways that more holistically look at the whole child.”

Texas is one of just a handful of states that did not adopt the Common Core State Standards in reading and math, and Peeples said she is mystified by the national debate over the standards.

“Our standards in Texas — more than 90 percent overlap with the Common Core,” Peeples said. “What gets lost in all this debate is that standards are a good thing. We want standards, we want discrete skills that are identifiable, we want every kid to be able to read and write at a high level. Everyone wants that for their kids. Standards are kind of like the floor. I don’t understand sometimes why people get very upset about it.”