Power of the Peffley

Teacher of year inspires students to make sustainable changes

Note: This story first appeared in a print issue in the spring of 2017.

The Lorax speaks for the trees, and so does she.

AP environmental science teacher Nicole Peffley and the Lorax are an inseparable pair. She never leaves her house without him tucked neatly away in her phone case, and she has his sayings painted on the walls of her classroom. Though some teachers may believe Dr. Seuss storybook characters are too childish for high schoolers, she thinks the Lorax delivers the most important message of all: the little things can make a difference.

“I hope that my students can see the application of what we learn in APES,” Peffley said. “The stuff that we learn in this class is something they can apply for the rest of their lives- from what they buy to what they drive to how they eat to behaviors in terms of water and electricity. I hope they realize that students can make a difference and that that difference starts with us. Not everyone takes environmental science, so I also hope my students realize that they are the messengers of what they learn in our class. We can make a positive impact.”

Peffley was named Teacher of the Year on Feb. 13, 2017 after her fellow teachers nominated her for her outstanding dedication to her students. While others may see her as a skilled teacher, Peffley believes that she still has room to improve her craft.

“I really think the bigger reaction occurred when I was on the nomination list because, you know, you get nominated by your peers,” Peffley said. “Just being nominated was really huge because that meant somebody out there thinks that I’m doing a good job, and that’s always nice to know. But I’m my worst critic. I am probably harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be on me so it was just an honor to be on the list. When people congratulate me, I’m thinking ‘thank you, thank you, but I’m not really sure if I deserve this’ because I can see all of my imperfections. I can see the work that needs to happen.”

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

— The Lorax

Peffley is a long-time science lover, and despite teaching environmental science now, biology and chemistry were the first subjects she was passionate about. While earning her degree in microbiology at Texas A&M University, she realized she wanted to help young people think about science from a more analytical perspective.

“I made it to my sophomore year in college before anyone had ever asked me to make connections between bits of material or try and apply it in a lab like manner.” Peffley said. “I was super frustrated and at that point I was like that’s not right and so I started to teach because I thought man, I want to be able to make a difference in the kind of science thinkers there are out there.”

According to junior Rachel Regner, what makes APES with Peffley worth taking is the course work’s relevant application to the modern world.

“Mrs. Peffley makes sure that everyone in class is on the same page, and that they really understand the lesson,” Regner said. “Not just the information in the lesson, but how it affects our world right now and how we can make a difference. All of her lessons can be applied to life right now, and that’s not something you get in most classes.”

Though the 7 a.m. mornings are inconvenient at best, she cannot imagine having any other job. According to Peffley, the joy in teaching teenagers such an important subject is what makes the long hours ultimately invaluable.

“I’ve done a couple of things in my life,” Peffley said. “I’ve done research, worked in various industries, and this is by far the most rewarding. It’s hard work and yeah, you don’t get paid a lot, but the intangibles you get paid are just so worth it.”