In order to enter a teacher program I had to answer a bunch of questions. I later left
the program to focus on special education. I came across my answers the other day and
thought it might tell you guys more about who I am and what makes me tick. We had to touch on certain subjects like "assessor"
By SCOTT BUTKI
I guess you can say I have teaching in my blood. So for me to go into teaching now is only logical.
My mother was a teacher for more than 30 years and took a break from working in the schools to raise her three children after we were born.
The first school I attended was one she worked at. Over time I moved on to other schools and she did as well.
I have many memories of seeing mom at home grading papers from class or meeting her in her classroom and marveling at all of the items on the walls.
Meanwhile, my father, an engineer, taught on weekends at California State University, Los Angeles and often I would go with.
Later I taught my mom how to use the Internet and she proceeded to teach other teachers in the school district how to do so.
My father has since died and mom has retired but now my sister teaches English as a Second Language at the University of Texas in Austin, after previously doing so in Argentina.
And if everything goes as planned I will become the latest teacher in the family.
That's me in the jacket, interviewing Vice President Al Gore. Note the
Newsweek in the jacket so that if I have any spare time I can catch up on my reading.
This photo captures a highlight in my career in journalism.
When I entered this field I set out to one day cover the White House. Well, I interviewed the man who was almost president. This photo occurred a few months after the November 2000 election when he was in the region watching his son play a lacrosse game at a private local school.
As with Mr. Gore I am a hard worker.
Ask anyone I work with, be it at the newspaper, the church I attend in Frederick, or the Hagerstown Jaycees, and they will attest to my dedication.
I will not rest until I finish a task even if that means working a longer day than I'm being paid to work, or spending weekends putting finishing touches on a project.
I am very aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a professional and as a person.
While surrounded by teachers growing up I wasn't always sure that I could do that task.
I thought I was too shy, too disorganized and too afraid of public speaking to be a good teacher.
But that was fine because I was headed on another career path: I was going to be a writer.
For as long as I can remember I have been reading books, some to entertain myself and others to learn something new. For almost as long I have been writing stories, some fact and some fiction.
After flirting in high school with the possibility of going into computer science so I can become the next Bill Gates, I decided to instead pursue a career in writing.
What I really loved was fiction. My dream job then was to work for The New York Times as a book reviewer, getting paid to read and review books. Later I thought I would become a best-selling author.
Upon realizing those dreams might never become reality I decided instead to go into journalism, using my talents for reading and writing to help newspaper readers.
After running the college newspaper for two years I graduated from California State Polytechnic University in 1991 with a bachelor's of science degree in communication, with a journalism emphasis.
I worked for small newspapers in California for about five years before moving to Fayetteville, Ark., where I worked for a daily newspaper for approximately two years.
I moved to Hagerstown in October 1998 in order to take a better newspaper reporting job. I covered the Washington County government for the first two years here and then, at my editors' request, I covered the Hagerstown City Council for another two years.
For the last year I have been covering the Washington County Board of Education.
With each of these beats I write an average of at least 10 stories a week, some about simple topics but many more explaining complicated issues.
Meanwhile my interest in education has been increasing, partially because I spend more time around children, including my niece.
Working on the education beats means I spend much of my time learning and writing about some of the same issues which will probably be addressed in this program, from the No Child Left Behind Act and other government mandates to how kindergarten has changed in the last 20 years.
My job gives me an edge most aspiring teachers do not have: Access to school system employees from the janitor level to the superintendent. I use that access to educate myself as well as the community about changes, trends and improvements in schools.
Since college my dream job has changed. While I still love to read books and write fiction nothing gives me more of a feeling of satisfaction and edification than working with and helping students learn.
And that is exactly what I intend to do.
I received this from a School Board candidate after he lost the election.
"Just wanted to thank you for your coverage of the school board election and the questions running up to it.
I've won elections and lost elections - it is definitely more fun to win. But I thought the amount of coverage the paper gave to this race was outstanding. Thanks again for your work.
Sincerely, Bill Sonnik"
I passed it on to my editors and Terry, the editor in chief, said:
Yes, I agree. I think we did an nice job of informing voters on the issues, from the Q and As that ran Sunday to the weekly (Sunday) commitment that focused on a different issue each week. We did well in informing voters and it's nice to get this kind of feedback.
It's funny, I've always been interested in education as a field but I never quite expected to approach it from the way I am now approaching it.
Instead two things have happened in the last year. First, I was assigned to cover the education beat. And second, I found - for the first time in my life - a church I like and there I've volunteered my time and take turns teaching classes and assisting other teachers, as well as serving as church photographer and helping in the nursery.
Meanwhile, the more I cover the education beat the more I want to become the educator. I've taken to interviewing teachers for stories and asking them about the hardest parts of their job, as if to test my resolve about the planned career change.
Since it's a Unitarian Universalist church, the class is not a traditional Sunday school. Instead we will do projects emphasizing that we are all unique which increases kids' self-esteem and tolerance at the same time.
I have found I am great at this and also get a deal of satisfaction and joy from it.
At the opening of worship services, many congregations light a flame inside a chalice. This flaming chalice is a symbol of the denomination, uniting members in worship and symbolizing the spirit of members' work.
Members light candles to express joys and concerns. I have lit candles, for example, to express concern when a close friend had an operation.
And when I decided I wanted to become a teacher - partially as the result of my work in the church classes - I lit a candle of joy and thanked the congregation for their support and patience.
The chalice is also part of the church class but in a way more suited for the students' age.
The church class starts with the students sitting in a circle on the
classroom carpet. A pillow is passed around and each child adds a candle - actually a red piece of fabric - as they express something they are happy or sad about.
This is a great, fun way to get glimpses into their lives and perspectives. One student might express sadness that a goldfish died while another expresses joy that a birthday is coming soon.
Occasionally children will say something revealing about their family structure, such as that a father has returned after being away "because he had been a bad man but he is better now."
Later in class the students do an activity and get snacks.
Additionally I have sat and observed in classes of friends in local public schools and worked as a substitute teacher.
I usually work as a substitute teacher at least one Friday each month, which I can do because I work a Sunday to Thursday schedule.
After working on a Friday I typed up some thoughts on how it went:
Overall it went great. It was much better than my last experience, with the kindergarten students out of control on a rainy Friday afternoon in June.
These were second-graders who sometimes seemed very mature. At other times their age was more obvious, like when the class bully called me "four eyes," or when a student said something on a video looked like "poop." The kids were quick to tattle on each other, which I'm learning is common for their age.
"He said a bathroom word!" one student told me, seconds after the poop incident.
Later, students asked me for help tying their shoes. "Double knot it please!" one pleaded. I felt so useful and knowledgeable at that moment.
We watched Reading Rainbow videos, played Math Bingo and did other activities. I was new to Math Bingo so students would show me how to play but they had a blast and I had some fun too.
(For those not in the know, for Math Bingo you call out, for example, "Under N, 4 plus 14." Usually at least one student could be heard whispering to himself the answers. Fingers were counted. Toes were not.)
I introduced myself as Mr. Scott. I did this because Butki is not the easiest word to pronounce even for older people. This time there just happened to be a girl in the class whose last name was Scott.
As a result this exchange later occurred: "Mr. Scott, where is Mrs. Scott?" which I assume was a way of asking if I'm married.
"There is no Mrs. Scott," I said.
The girl jumped up and said, "I'm Mrs. Scott!"
Fortunately something else happened and the line of questioning changed.
Oh one last thought: The amount of self-awareness is fascinating. When I arrived some students were being loud as they played a few indoor classroom games (since it rained that day). One student who was loud initially later pulled me aside and said, "You are going to give us a bad grade because we are too loud, aren't you?"
I told him I had not decided yet. This concerned student went from being a loud child to one of those shushing other loud children reminding them, "If you're loud the teacher will hear about it."
And so she did.
I wrote the teacher:
"Thanks for letting me substitute for you. With the exception of one student most of the students were well behaved.
They really got into the Math Bingo game. I found I could get them to be quiet if I would say that I would not read the next Math Bingo question until they were all silent, sitting and still.
That was bliss.
A few students won Bingo more than once. I did not know whether they should get two prizes from your box or not since you probably usually only go to third place - while I went to sixth place. I told them that is your decision since they are your prizes.
The students also seemed to enjoy the pumpkin activity. After they all finished drawing I went around the room and had each student tell me why they chose what they chose. The boys, of course, tried to out-gross each other."
I am frequently assessing how I feel towards different parts of my life and friends and family.
One example has been assessing my spiritual needs. I did not get what I wanted from the church I grew up with and for several years I was searching for a more fitting church.
I ended up writing a column about this search.
On the very Sunday the column ran in the newspaper, I found the church I love, which I now consider my spiritual home.
Subsequently I received more than 50 cards and emails asking me to try readers' favorite churches. One church wrote that my column had become required reading for all future church greeters.
I then included that column - which is here -
The way I approached digital photography is demonstrative of how I assess my abilities and skills. After spending most of my life thinking about words and text - even dreaming in words and thoughts - I decided about one year ago to see if I could become a decent photographer.
I bought a digital camera and started taking pictures. Soon I would see
potential photographs everywhere I looked.
I then did something which, on reflection, might not have been the easiest route to self-improvement: I posted my pictures in Internet sites where photographs are critiqued. Each photographer who posts a photo is asked to critique two other photos.
My early photos had problems and those were quickly pointed out- sometimes in critiques that were quite harsh - and I learned from that.
I have always considered teaching one of the most important jobs in the world. If we don't teach our youth it will surely hurt society in the future.
At the church I make sure I go to the classes each week, even if it's not my week to help out, so the students will get the regular presence of a positive male model in the classroom.
I think this shows in how the students know who I am even when sometimes they are not sure who the week's teacher is. And I think it shows in some of these pictures of students in classes.
I also go to the nursery, where I help out, playing and reading and talking with the infants.
Additionally I make a point of educating myself. I have always been a prolific writer and a voracious reader. I've included in here a column I wrote about my attitude towards reading.
I've joined book discussion groups at the library and at church and any doubts about whether I was too shy to speak were erased as I led discussions on books with strangers.
While applying for jobs in schools I was asked, at one point, to describe my dream school. This is what I wrote:
Thank you for responding. I admit I don't fit the usual profile - or career path - for teachers but I think that also can be a positive. For example I have a familiarity with the laws, budgets and requirements of schools and school systems that most teachers do not.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond to your question.
What would my dream school be like?
My ideal school would focus on learning, not testing. There would still be some testing but it would be kept to a minimum.
Teachers, working with small groups of students at the same learning level, would help guide students to books so that reading, for them, would become something they enjoy, not something they just have to do. As a result they would become readers for life, not just readers when required to do so.
Note: I say the students would be at the same learning level and not the same grade or age level - I think students, at this dream school, should be grouped based on where they are with their skills and learning not separated by the year they were born.
There would be mentors for new teachers.
Administrators would be required to spend a few hours in the classroom each month which would serve as a reminder that the school is there for the children, not to meet government mandates and testing goals. This would also probably serve as a nice respite for the administrators from the paperwork and red tape they encounter regularly.
A visitor walking through the school would see and hear a number of wonderful things, including the flower and vegetable garden dug and maintained by the students and the bulletin board which students use to buy and sell crafts and products.
From the auditorium the visitor would hear the school orchestra trying to master the song "Let It Be" while the children's choir sang a different tune with four-part harmony.
At the grandstand, with some students watching, two students debate whether the school should recycle all paperwork even though it may cost money. After the debate the students vote on the issue and the school administrator considers their feedback when making a decision on the issue.
A third grade student takes notes on the proceedings for the on-line school newspaper.
People from various walks of life in the community - and not just parents - would come to the school to demonstrate various skills and provide glimpses into different career paths.
To the visitor's right is a crowded class - and crowded at this school means more than 15 students to one teacher - watching a local defense attorney and prosecutor argue the case of Jack and Jill and whether they broke a trespassing law when they walked up the hill or whether their defense – they were just going, they claim, to get some water - made their actions justifiable.
From another classroom comes the beautiful sound of laughter as an instructor uses her own style of edutainment - using the argument that students remember more when they are being entertained - to instruct them about math.
Down the hall a student could be heard shouting, "Give me liberty or give me death!"
That's from the history class where students act out different figures from the Revolutionary War.
In short my dream school would provide a variety of ways for students to learn where teachers and other school employees could experiment with different methods and teaching styles - with the help of others - to make school something each student not only benefits from but treasures and recalls for many years.
These are just a few of the ideas that come to mind when I think about my vision of a dream school.
This was not the easiest way to learn how to become a good photographer but it apparently worked because I am now winning contests at digital photography sites and may even sell some soon as a side business that can bring me some income while attending the Master's program.
Incidentally all photos in this portfolio – except the ones of me – were taken by me.
I combined my dual interests of education and photography by taking pictures - with the permission of the church and parents - in the church classes.
Any doubts I had about whether I was accepted in this church or if my photography was decent were soon erased as the church put some of the photographs on the church Internet site.
Included in this portfolio are pictures I took of a "Green Eggs and Ham" breakfast event the church had. The event fit in with the church curriculum for the summer of using Dr. Seuss books to teach students various lessons. (sorry I'm not going to include the photos here for privacy reasons)
I spend a great deal of time - more than most people, I think – reflecting and contemplating my life, people in it and decisions I have made.
I do some of my best reflecting through writing about what I am feeling and thinking.
I thought about writing down some examples but decided it would make more sense to include in here some columns I have written that demonstrate what I mean and how I approach decisions and life.
My education writing has also been helpful in this regard. I learn different skills and tips when interviewing teachers, for example.
I have included, for example, an article I wrote about test anxiety. I'd always heard it was a problem and was curious – both as an education reporter and as an aspiring teacher – how the problem is addressed in schools.
In conclusion let me state again that I am ready, willing and able to learn how to become a good, effective teacher.
It is a hard job – as I have been reminded in many interviews with teachers and other school employees – but one I can and will do.
Thank you for your time.