A background in science combined with an awareness of social justice in education guide the instructional processes and philosophy of Cape Henlopen School District Teacher of the Year Rachel Peacock.
A Cape High chemistry and Advanced Placement chemistry teacher, Peacock received the district honor May 17 surrounded by family, school officials and building-level teachers of the year at a small ceremony at Lewes Elementary School.
Peacock said her doctorate in critical pedagogy, which she received from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, is an extension of peace and justice programs taught in many Catholic universities and borne out of a similar ideology with all forms of education in mind.
“Initially, it made me take a look at formal and informal practices within the education system that might perpetuate inequities in the classroom and school, how to be mindful of my participation in those processes, and how to disrupt them for a more equitable outcome,” she said.
The ideology caused her to think deeper about classroom management and academic tracking processes and how to work with students from a variety of backgrounds.
“For me, it helped me reflect on how to actually serve every student in the classroom so they meaningfully reach their goals, which is essentially to learn,” she said. “It helps me create a classroom that is inclusive and academically focused so kids buy into the learning process.”
Chemistry’s reputation as a hard class precedes it, Peacock said, but a lot of the apprehension surrounding the subject is a mindset issue. With enough practice, effort and guidance, kids can learn anything, she said.
“Chemistry is actually a great class because students learn what they are capable of achieving and they feel a sense of accomplishment when they succeed,” she said. “I see them shine when they get something and have that ‘aha’ moment when they engage with something challenging and rise to the occasion.”
Peacock said she tries to make her classroom fun as well, with hands-on activities that keep students interested and engaged. Students are encouraged to reach out if they need help.
“I tell them I’m only a Schoology message or screenshot away,” she said.
Peacock Zoom-records most of her classes in case students are absent or want to review topics before a test by rewatching a lesson. Students have the opportunity to retake a test, whether they get a 98 or a 58, and want to learn more.
“I think that when students have a roadmap for how to put forth the time and effort, they do,” she said.
Before coming to Cape eight years ago, Peacock taught middle school physical science and high school chemistry in Minnesota, and previously taught high school chemistry in Virginia for a couple years.
She received both her master’s degree in education and her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech. Originally from Chadds Ford, Pa., Peacock and her family moved to Lewes when her parents retired in the Cape Region.
Peacock and husband John, who works for the Sussex Consortium at Cape High, have two boys. Jude is a sixth-grader at Beacon Middle who runs cross country, track and plays in the jazz band, and Quinn is a second-grader at Lewes Elementary who runs cross country and plays travel soccer.
In their spare time, the family enjoys going to the beach and biking the trails at Cape Henlopen State Park.
The Delaware Department of Education will name the 2024 state Teacher of the Year this fall.