Butler gathers resources to challenge her students

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 31, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Aquetta Butler gets ideas for her classroom the old-fashioned way.

&uot;I steal them,&uot; said the fourth-grade teacher. &uot;I’ll be in someone’s classroom and I’ll see something and I’ll think &045; ‘How can I expand on this?’&uot;

That is how, with the help of grants she sought out herself on the Internet, Butler has been able to fashion learning centers that challenge students in every area from reading to arithmetic.

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And it is that innovativeness, among other traits, that saw Butler named not only McLaurin Elementary’s, but also the entire Natchez-Adams School District’s Teacher of the Year for 2002.

Butler has six years of teaching &045;

three at Vidalia Lower Elementary and three at McLaurin &045; under her belt and more than seven years interacting with children as a social worker before that.

So you’d think that teaching would be a piece of cake for her &045; but think again.

&uot;I have 31 students, so I feel Š spread out&uot; among the students, said Butler, perched on a tiny student-sized chair in the midst of her portable classroom.

Even with three veteran educators who visit her classroom regularly to help tutor the students, the job can be quite a challenge.

That is why Butler advises those just entering the teaching field to make sure their classrooms are, above all, organized. &uot;That’s the key right there,&uot; she said.

Easy for her to say, right? Actually, Butler said there are many mini-grants available for educators to buy all sorts of learning tools for students.

Those tools range from special sets of blocks to teach them geometry to electronic &uot;state capitals&uot; cards for social studies.

With an investment of time and creativity &045; and yes, ideas &uot;borrowed&uot; from other classrooms &045; those tools can be organized into learning centers for each subject.

If students complete their seatwork early, they can look at a schedule that shows them which learning center they must go to. &uot;They know that ‘If I’m in Group 1 and it’s Monday, I go to the math center, for example,&uot; Butler said.

Depending on the subject, students can listen to story tapes, play electronic &uot;Math Safari&uot; games, answer questions about mountains or engage in grade-appropriate science projects.

Since some students naturally gravitate toward the more electronic, interactive games, Butler has printed out a list of other activities that students at the centers must engage in before playing the games.

&uot;Otherwise, they all want to do ‘Math Safari,’&uot; Butler said.

So far in her teaching career, Butler has applied for and received $4,000 in grants from such foundations as Entergy and BellSouth.

Butler is enthusiastic about reaching young minds, and it shows, said Dr. Ronnie Nettles, dean of Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus, who chaired the Teacher of the Year selection committee.

&uot;She was enthusiastic about what she’s doing and proud of the accomplishments of her students &045; we could see that,&uot; Nettles said.

While all of the individual schools’ Teachers of the Year were excellent educators, that enthusiasm made the difference for the judges, Nettles said.

And Butler, who said she was surprised and honored to receive the Teacher of the Year title, isn’t stopping there.

While she already holds a master’s degree, she plans to soon start working toward her national board certification.

That will get her $6,000 more in pay per year and, she hopes, will prepare her even more to make a difference in the classroom.

While a teacher cannot reach every student, Butler said, &uot;you’ve got to keep trying every day.&uot;