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Baltimore teacher visits White House

Stacy M. Brown | 5/6/2016, 9:10 a.m.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016 will be a day Kyair Butts won’t soon forget.
Fifth grade teacher Kyair Butts was among more than three-dozen teachers who were honored at the White House by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, for being exemplary teachers.

— Tuesday, May 3, 2016 will be a day Kyair Butts won’t soon forget. The fourth and fifth grade teacher at Calverton Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore made his way down the beltway to the nation’s capital and a visit to the White House where President Barack Obama and administration officials honored Butts and more than three dozen other teachers for being exemplary at their craft.

“It’s such a great honor and a real privilege,” Butts said. “To be an invited guest during Teacher Appreciation Week where the White House honors teachers of the year winners in the state and the national teacher of the year, is amazing.”

When he first received notice, Butts says he thought someone was trying to scam him.

“They had asked for information like my date of birth and social security number and I thought this is what scammers do. But, after I checked it out and realized this was really happening, I was so surprised,” said Butts, who is in his fourth year as a teacher at the Title 1-school in Charm City.

He got his start with Urban Teachers, a nonprofit organization that trains aspiring teachers in Washington and Baltimore and is committed to transforming urban schools by preparing highly skilled, deeply committed teachers who know how to improve outcomes for all learners.

The organization strives to improve education for thousands of urban students each year.

“For me, it started off almost as a bet,” Butts said. “My debate coach told me that I was going to be a teacher some day and I said that wasn’t true that I will be a lawyer.”

Butts did earn a scholarship to law school but, after taking a year off to investigate career possibilities, he realized that he enjoyed being a debate coach at the middle school, high school and collegiate levels.

“I knew teaching was for me, so I walked back into my debate coach’s office with my tail between my legs and told her that she won the bet [and] that she was right, I will become a teacher,” he said.

With the support of Urban Teachers, Butts has not looked back.

“Urban Teachers is phenomenal. You look at what President John F. Kennedy asked a generation about what they can do for their country. Urban Teachers really helps people to heed Kennedy’s call,” Butts said. “They provide phenomenal resources and they’ve given me leadership roles to pay it forward.

“We serve a population that doesn’t have a lot of opportunities and haven’t always had the best means. But, we’re helping these students to find their voice and I’m so grateful for my students that I kind of forget about the resources that I need or want for the classroom.”

Butts’ students are just as excited about the White House visit as anyone. One of the students requested that he ask President Obama what color the president would like to paint the White House if he were given a choice. Another student, a fifth grader who reads at a 12th grade level, wrote a letter to the president seeking avenues in which underprivileged and underserved schools can get funding to help better educational opportunities.

“It was indicative of where that student is at,” Butts said.

With an admitted reverence of Obama, Butts noted that while it’s very special to meet the president, the experience will still rank below that of what he gets each day from his classroom at Calverton Elementary/Middle School.

“I have deep respect for somebody that goes to work every day and seemingly half of the country is opposed to what he does and want to stop him but he keeps plugging away,” Butts said. “The only reason I won’t say that going to the White House and seeing the president is number one on my list of accomplishments is because of my students.

“I’ve seen such great growth. One student grew 89 points from the beginning of the year in terms of reading and development. So, while it would be great to glad hand with other teachers and be with the president, the idea of a legacy and cultivating good students and good people will endure. It’s what we produce and it’s that kind of legacy that will endure a lifetime.