JACKSONVILLE — Ben Peacock does what's necessary to pursue his passion for teaching.
Peacock said the fact he rides his bike or walks has become a point of conversation with the high school students, and people always stop and ask whether he needs a ride.
For him, the decision is about accommodating his wife, saving money and getting some exercise in the process.
Mrs. Peacock, an engineer, stopped working when the couple had their first daughter so she could be a housewife and he could continue his teaching career.
It's a career that led to challenges and learning experiences for the 30-year-old.
He began teaching in Bronx, New York, where he received threats from students and fights were common. He learned the ropes, though, and ended up loving the job. But he said he is excited to start his third year teaching 11th-grade English at Jacksonville High School.
A Jacksonville native, Peacock graduated from Jacksonville High School in 2000, one year before his high school sweetheart and wife, Julianna.
He went to college at Texas A&M University while Julianna went to Duke University in North Carolina.
They dated for about three years after high school, broke up, and Peacock applied for a teaching program in New York. Once he got accepted, he moved up there and was there two years as a single man. When he and Julianna got married, she joined him for three additional years in New York. The couple moved back to Jacksonville in the summer of 2010.
The school he served in New York, Middle/High School 368, was in the Marble Hill area, and the housing project there likely has more than 10,000 people, Peacock said.
“It's very different. Teaching-wise … some things are always going to be the same. … Your average bad kid in Texas is probably just as bad as your average bad kid in New York, but up there, there (are) just more of them,” he said.
He taught middle school the first two years, then high school the other three.
He said he always kind of knew he wanted to live away from Texas but never thought it'd be in New York.
“Personally when I first moved, no one understood me,” he said. “I had an East Texas twang. … Cab drivers didn't know what I was saying.”
He also didn't have friends there at first and was forced to make friends, which he said was a great experience.
On the first day of class, he said he walked in and introduced himself to his approximately 40 students, who then simultaneously told him to “go back to Texas.”
“They yelled that at me, and I remember thinking, 'Do I really want to do this?'” Peacock said. “I had no family up there, no friends. It was my first day on the job. It's kind of one of those things where you either walk out and quit like a lot of people do or keep showing up to work and it eventually gets better.”
He said that's exactly what happened as he continued to work.
A lot of the students were bad kids, but like anybody else, they want to learn, he said.
“If you can show you can earn their respect, and the best way to do that is to keep trying, showing up every day, don't quit and eventually you garner their respect,” he said.
“It took the rest of the year, but I loved my job up there. … I was able to succeed at impacting the lives of kids who really were nothing like me. They didn't come from the same town … didn't look like me, didn't really share the same interests I had. You had to find a way to get to them.”
He said he also believes nothing is more important to a child's education than the quality of the teacher in front of them, and he quickly learned that.
After their first daughter was born, Peacock and his wife decided to move back to Texas to be around family.
So he jumped at an opening to teach 11th-grade English at Jacksonville High School.
Now, he is about to start his third year there and his eighth year teaching.
He said he loves being back in his hometown and considers it one of the best decisions he and his wife have made.
On the first day of school each year, he has a routine that partly was inspired by former Jacksonville history teacher Phil Waller.
“He would start off when I was in high school, we'd walk in his room and he would be very (firm) the first day of school. I guess he was my inspiration when I first started teaching in New York,” he said.
“When you're teaching, you're selling yourself. You're promoting something about you. … You want them to buy into what you're selling. If you don't believe in what you're selling, you don't have conviction.”
Peacock said he also believes teachers have one chance to show students how much they believe in what they're doing and how serious they take it.
If the teacher gives away too much control early on, especially on the first day of school, they can't get it back, he said.
On the contrary, “If you keep most of that authority and broadcast that you're the one that possesses it and you're the one who's always going to possess it — unless you decide to parcel it out — then it's much easier to grant authority than it is to give it away at the first and never get it back,” he said.
“You kind of have to set the tone.”
Peacock said one of the first things he tells students on their first day of school is that their junior year is the most important year they've had so far academically and is when a majority of them will take standardized tests for college admission.
“I just go over expectations for the year …” Peacock said. “When they see me — that I represent a way of doing things — that's doing things the right way, working hard, and not trying to cut any corners. I'm big on enthusiasm and intensity.”
He said he's also big on healthy competition.
“I really believe that so many times in education, the kids who do really well aren't rewarded as often as should be,” he said. “I will write their name on board for someone who did good on a vocabulary quiz. … I try to make them compete against each other.”
When asked what else people should know about him, he cited his belief in exposure to different people and ideas.
“I think the more kids are exposed to ideas and knowledge and to different kinds of people from different backgrounds and different cultures, it makes them stronger and I think so many people have a fear of too much knowledge that it causes them to question, but I think the more exposed you are to different ideas, different books, different cultures, the stronger your personality becomes,” Peacock said.
He said his mother, a long-time speech teacher, was one of the biggest influences on him.
He recently gave a speech in front of Distinguished Achievement Program graduates and last year spoke to the Jacksonville Rotary Club.
Now, he said he's excited about the renovations going on at the high school but is more excited about teaching again when the school year starts Aug. 27.
Mrs. Peacock, a Jacksonville Education Foundation board member, echoed her husband, saying she loves being home and is pleased Jacksonville ISD is completing two new elementary campuses, along with renovations to Fred Douglass Elementary School and Jacksonville High School.
“We've been really well received,” she said. “I think people are glad young people are coming back home and being enthusiastic about Jacksonville.”
“People are pleased with him,” she said.
Those are people like former student Emily Jones, who graduated this year and will attend The University of Texas at Austin.
She described Peacock's class as the “kind of class you looked forward to going to.”
She said he was relevant and discussed current events while teaching English.
“He taught us to read everything going on and to always be in the know and to always read two sides of things and to want to know everything to create your own opinion,” Ms. Jones said. “It was fun to go to a class where he was passionate about what he was doing. … He's definitely the kind of teacher that every student should have — the kind that influences your life, the kind of teacher that just really inspires you to be the best at everything you do.”