Updated May 30, 2014:
James Butler, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Gullet Elementary School, was named Austin ISD's 2014 Teacher of the Year on May 29 during Salute 2014, an annual event hosted by AISD and Austin Partners In Education.
Original story posted May 7, 2014
James Butler, Gullet Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher, was named Austin ISD's 2014 elementary school Teacher of the Year.
Butler said he incorporates yoga, meditation and hands-on activities at "learning centers" he has established throughout his classroom in addition to focusing on required reading, pre-reading skills and numerical fluency curriculum.
At each center, students can learn about different subjects, he said, noting he was awarded the A+ Education Foundation Grant in 2011–12 and 2012–13 to purchase iPads and establish an iPad center.
Incorporating social and emotional learning strategies in his instruction is key, he said.
"I try really hard to instill life skills that [students] can carry on for the rest of their life," he said.
Originally from Cleveland, Butler has taught at Gullett since 2011 and previously worked at T.A. Brown and Barbara Jordan and Winn elementary schools. He also volunteered as a teacher in a rural village school in southern Africa in 2009.
"I got into teaching because my childhood was awful," he said, noting he lacked an everyday positive role model until he met his fifth-grade teacher. "When the time came for me to decide what I wanted to do, it was very apparent that I didn't want kids to wait until fifth grade to have a positive role model or to never have one."
He aims to serve as an example for his students and teach them how to work together, share, take turns and talk through problems when they are upset, he said.
"Obviously all of us are going to encounter hardships and hard times in life," he said. "How you handle those problems is how you learn and grow."
Paul Cruz, the district's interim superintendent, surprised Butler with the recognition on April 30 along with the district's high school teacher of the year, LBJ High School's Nicholas Dellas, and middle school teacher of the year, Kealing Middle School's Sharon Roy. One of the three teachers will be named Austin Teacher of the Year on May 29 and will serve as AISD's nominee for Texas Teacher of the Year.
"I am incredibly grateful and honored, and I really feel like I share this honor with my students because every year I feel like I become a better teacher because of them," Butler said.