- Laura Peavley, a mathematics teacher at Westport Middle School (Jefferson County), was named the 2021 Middle School Teacher of the Year.
- Peavley moved from Oldham County to the Portland neighborhood in West Louisville so she could better understand what her students were battling on a daily basis
By Jacob Perkins
Laura Peavley wants students to feel loved and valued.
Not just her students, all students. As Kentucky’s 2021 Middle School Teacher of the Year, she hopes to spread that feeling across the state.
Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Peavley joined Jefferson County Public Schools after graduating from Miami University (Ohio) in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in middle childhood education.
After beginning her career at Conway Middle School (Jefferson County), Peavley made her way to Westport Middle School in 2012, where she still teaches math today.
Two years before her arrival, Westport implemented a Montessori program for its students – Kentucky’s only public middle school Montessori program. Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity and hands-on learning. In Montessori classrooms, students make creative choices in their learning.
“The program really allows students to be a lot more self-paced, and a lot more independent as thinkers and as learners,” Peavley said. “Students take a lot of ownership for their learning. They rely on research rather than relying on the teacher. The teacher acts more as a facilitator and guides them rather than standing in front of the classroom.
“Students really thrive on collaboration in the classroom and learning to learn rather than learning to get a grade.”
Since joining Westport, Peavley has played an integral role in shaping the program into what it is today. She works to determine requirements, expectations and helps foster a passion for the program by working at the high school level to help establish a Montessori option for those students.
Westport Middle School Principal Jodie Zeller said Peavley has been actively involved in building the culture within the school.
“She is a phenomenal teacher and she is instrumental in setting the tone,” he said.
Though Peavley teaches math at Westport, learning math is not the ultimate goal for her classroom. Yes, the students learn math along the way, but Peavley sees her classroom and the material she teaches as a way to build the next generation of scholars and citizens.
“Math still gets done, we do a lot of math,” she said. “But we also make plenty of time for relationships and to talk about life and to meet the students where they’re at. If students are struggling, we will put that in front of math.
“I know that is kind of controversial, but I can’t get to the content if the students are distracted or if there are other things going on.”
Peavley has found that by creating a relationship with her students and establishing a foundation of trust, the math then comes easy.
“As a teacher, I have such a powerful opportunity to build relationships and impact the next generation one student at a time,” she said. “Math is just the way that I hope to build those relationships.”
Knowing what students are going through is of utmost importance to Peavley.
According to Jefferson County Public Schools’ data books, the largest number of students who attend Westport outside of the school’s immediate neighborhood resident in Portland, a neighborhood located about 13 miles away from Westport west of downtown Louisville.
Three years ago, Peavley and her husband moved from Oldham County to Portland so she could better understand what her students were battling on a daily basis.
“Two nights ago, I woke up three times in the middle of the night to gunfire,” she said.
While students are learning from home during the pandemic, Peavley said she emphasizes more with her students when she realizes how much they must deal with outside of the classroom.
She recalled a shooting that occurred four blocks away from her home earlier in the school year. This shooting stood out to her because one of her students, who happened to be behind in class, lived where the shooting occurred.
“Here are our students who are still trying to balance all of this, but yet they are being woken up by gunfire and then sirens and all this craziness outside their door and that’s why they’re sleeping in and missing a class,” she said. “We have to be aware of this and empathetic towards it so we can truly understand where they’re coming from, because it isn’t always their fault.”
Living nearby also shows her students that Peavley is available and there to help.
“The kids value that,” she said. “They value the consistency that being around them provides. No one can ever understand what someone is going through until you are with them and going through life with them. By being in the neighborhood, it allows me that opportunity on such a deep level and I’m really grateful for it.”
Peavley believes teaching is the best job in the world and being named the 2021 Kentucky Middle School Teacher of the Year will give her the chance to share this belief with more people, in and out of the education community. She received the award at an Oct. 22 virtual program co-sponsored by Valvoline and the Kentucky Department of Education.
“I want to share my passion, and encourage and hopefully impact more students,” Peavley said. “I just want every student to feel loved and to feel valued.”