“She is one of those teachers we come across once in a lifetime.”


Nisha Kunjumon

As a worldwide health crisis raged in the summer of 2020, the school year approached with universal trepidation—but for students and staff of North Carolina’s Indian Trail Elementary, pivoting to pandemic learning was the latest in a string of disruptive disasters. Before shutdowns closed the schools, they’d had a fire in the building, a tornado where terrified students had to shelter in the hallways, and an E. coli outbreak in the water system.

It was getting hard to stay positive—even for Lindsay Peck, who keeps a “positivity wall” of encouraging notes in her classroom, where she teaches math and reading to Academically and Intellectually Gifted fourth and fifth graders. Of all her colleagues juggling in-person and remote learning, she was the only one—because her students draw from different homerooms—charged with teaching virtually and in person at the same time. And because she’d previously been Instructional Technology Facilitator for her district, Union County Public Schools south of Charlotte, she was the default resource for fellow teachers needing tech help (translation: almost everyone).

She might have buckled under the stress. Instead, she decided what they all needed was a little magic—and added crafting to her already overflowing to-do list. By the time her students returned, she’d transformed her room into Hogwarts, complete with Quidditch rings to hold class goals, a reward system of house points to foster friendly competition, faux candles hanging from the ceiling, and Harry Potter growth mindset posters.

It worked. Peck’s students were excited about school again, and so was she. It was a reminder of why she’d wanted to be a teacher in the first place—because of her own “amazing” third-grade teacher during her Ohio childhood, Mrs. Kohmann, who’d helped her during a time of transitions through her parents’ divorce and remarriages to other people. “She was everything a good teacher should be,” Peck says. “She was there to support me emotionally but she also pushed me academically.” Peck also credits her grandmother, who taught adult learners and deaf students, with modeling the compassionate side of the profession.

“Nowadays so many people are telling college students not to go into education,” she acknowledges, citing the downsides of being accessible via apps at all hours and even working side jobs to supplement her salary. But Peck is adamant: “It is exhausting, it is sometimes a thankless job … but it is the best job.” she says. “I would never tell someone who wants to be a teacher not to be a teacher.”

"She doesn’t care about just education—she cares about who you’re growing up to be.”


Emanya Sibu

Indian Trail’s gifted students might not get letters from Hogwarts to come to her class—they test in with high-achieving scores. But from the moment they walk through the door, the focus on nurturing the whole student is evident in Peck’s approach. The letter she does send home fosters a different kind of magic:

I will be your child’s champion and I will continue to work tirelessly to make learning fun, engaging, challenging, and meaningful. As we move through this year, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you or your child are having difficulty with anything, whether it’s academic, social, or emotional. I will do whatever I can to support you and your family!

The closing line? I look forward to our partnership this year.

There’s no question Peck means it. The first class of her career, third graders, are college sophomores now, and she’s still in touch with many of their families. “I get to see all my kids grow up and all the things I wanted for them coming to fruition,” Peck says. “I can’t ask for a better career path than that.”

For fifth grader Emanya (“Anya”) Sibu and her mother, Nisha, in their second year on Peck’s roster, their nomination of Peck for the Honored National Teaching Award offers a glimpse into what the other half of those partnerships look like: “She is one of those teachers we come across once in a lifetime.” Anya excels at school (she was 2023’s Union County Public Schools spelling bee champion and a finalist this year) and is very involved in extracurriculars, so she says people often assume everything comes easily to her. Peck pays more attention.

“Last year I had a bit of trouble with some friends at school, and I was not really happy—and Ms. Peck could see that,” Anya says. For Anya, the “bit of trouble” was starting to snowball; she’d fallen behind on her coursework, which was unfamiliar and overwhelming territory for a kid who describes herself as a perfectionist. When Peck suggested talking through it in a conference with her parents, Anya gratefully agreed. “We went over how she can help me,” Anya says. “The next few weeks she was encouraging me and giving me to-do lists … She doesn’t care about just education—she cares about who you’re growing up to be.”

“I get to see all my kids grow up and all the things I wanted for them coming to fruition. I can’t ask for a better career path than that.”


Lindsay Peck

For Nisha, it meant even more. “What stood out to me with that whole interaction with Ms. Peck: She understands, right? We would think it’s easy to teach kids who are really advanced in their grade, but I think it’s really difficult.” She credits Peck with helping her better understand how her daughter’s thought processes might vary from her peers. “She understands kids as an individual,” Nisha says. “She knows Anya’s strength and Anya’s weakness and she knows what our expectation is. We just felt she was so involved and she really, really cares for Anya. I’m happy to send her to school to a teacher who cares for her like I would do.”

When Nisha asked Anya’s classmates and their parents if anyone had sentiments to contribute to Peck’s national recognition, responses poured in. “I am reminded daily of the positive impact that she has on our daughter’s life as she is oftentimes a topic of conversation after school at our house,” writes Kayla Lendenbaum. Words that come up repeatedly: Fun. Patience. Creativity. Challenging.

“Miss Peck is my favorite teacher and will always be my favorite teacher no matter what,” gushes a student named Eva, echoing Anya and many of their classmates. “She has changed my life forever and I will never forget her.”

Peck’s hands-on methods work both ways. A few years ago, she even let her students plan her itinerary for a vacation to England, Scotland, and Wales to learn about budgeting and travel planning. She followed through, sending them photos from restaurants and museums they’d chosen for her to visit. Peck hasn’t forgotten her first teaching job, in another district school where her students’ writing assignments made it clear many had never experienced anything beyond Union County—not even the Atlantic, though it was only two hours away by car. By contrast, Peck had studied abroad in the U.K. while majoring in early childhood education at Baldwin Wallace University, then moved to the Carolinas because of the high demand for teachers. “I kind of made it my mission to open up my world to my kids a little more,” she says.

When one of her students wanted to gift Peck a cat, she took “teacher’s pet” to a new level and accepted, even after the cat turned out to be a troublemaker. Mocha’s antics are now classroom lore and further opportunity for a personal connection.

It all comes back to Peck’s philosophy that academic success isn’t just about mastering curriculum. And with kids who already test off the charts, she believes their growth is not best measured by metrics.

“I am a more hands-off elementary school teacher,” she explains. “In the younger grades, you have to handhold, because that’s where they are developmentally. My kids come in and expect the same thing initially, and I only hold their hand for a very short amount of time. I don’t give them a choice but to start problem solving.”

“She helped [my son] understand that not succeeding on the first attempt was not failure, but an opportunity to learn."


Dana Rati, Instructional Assistant at ITES and Parent

Peck says gifted students often feel as if their creativity has been hampered from having to learn inside a box that doesn’t necessarily fit them. They can also be over-reliant on being able to “Google something at the drop of a hat.” So, she strives to give minimal instruction, dividing them into their Hogwarts houses to work through problems as peers. “I need their creativity to flourish,” she says. “I want them to learn to read through directions and infer what things are asking them to do and go above and beyond what the expectation is.”

When reading a historical novel, for instance, she’ll plan activities to help them understand the time period, then let them explore how that context enriches the story. She has created her own website for every single novel in her assigned curriculum. “She’s the most amazing teacher that I see improvise on lessons,” Anya says.

Dana Rati, an instructional assistant at Indian Trail whose son Zach was placed in Peck’s class five years ago, saw how important those skills proved to be. “This environment of acceptance mixed with high expectations is what has had the most lasting impact,” she says. “She helped him understand that not succeeding on the first attempt was not failure, but an opportunity to learn. Overcoming the perfectionist lean he had as a younger student opened the door to him taking on the adventure of becoming a student at our district magnet school in the Information Systems Academy. He is tackling the AP Computer Sciences course as a freshman!”

Perhaps it’s so effective because Peck’s classroom doesn’t operate in a bubble. Last year, Peck collaborated with a colleague, Nicole Brandhorst, to partner their special education students from different ends of the spectrum. The idea was for kids in Peck’s class to become “reading buddies” to Brandhorst’s kindergarteners and first graders with special needs ranging from nonverbal autism to Down syndrome.

“My students absolutely adored having her students in our room. Some of my students who have a really hard time acknowledging others and maintaining sitting stamina were sitting with her students and listening,” Brandhorst says. “There was one of her students in particular who immediately connected with my class and whose persona and patience truly stood out to me. I went to Ms. Peck to tell her how amazing it was … He ended up buddying up with my class weekly outside of the reading buddies and that was such a great experience for both sides.”

When asked which class enjoys the “buddy reads” more, Anya grins. “It’s fifty-fifty,” she says.

For Peck, there’s nothing better: “Those are the things that end up meaning more to me than how they did on a test.”

Photography by CanDee Seabolt

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