ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
She’s been called Mom, Dad, Grandma, Miss B, and Miss Butler. While there’s no consensus on how to refer to her, almost everyone who knows Eileen Butler calls her a caring and devoted teacher over the 38 years she’s served USD 410.
Her run comes to an end Friday, May 26, when the school bell signals the end of the school day and year. Butler wrapped her resignation letter in a towel when she handed it May 3 to Evan Yoder, Hillsboro Elementary School principal.
“I told him I was throwing in the towel,” Butler said. “I (resigned) on my father’s birthday so I could remember the date.”
Butler positively influenced the lives of nearly 800 first and third graders during her tenure at HES.
While many young people struggle to decide what to do with their lives, Butler said she knew from her first day at school that she wanted to be a teacher.
“From little on, I always played school and I always enjoyed school,” she said. “I really liked all of my elementary teachers.”
Butler grew up in Eldora, Iowa, and graduated from high school there in 1964.
Following in the footsteps of her brothers and guided by her faith, she enrolled at McPherson College, which is affiliated with her denomination, Church of the Brethren.
Four years later, Butler earned a bachelor of science in elementary education and applied for an opening in Hillsboro.
“The day I got a letter that said there weren’t any openings, I got a phone call that said there was an opening and I was to come over for an interview,” she said.
Three weeks later she had a teaching contract in hand. She started teaching third grade for two years at Suncrest, a rural grade school at the time.
Butler earned her master’s degree in 1976 when Wichita State brought the program to the campus of Tabor College.
“I just couldn’t pass up going two blocks to college,” she said.
Although Butler taught first grade for five years, her primary focus has been third grade.
“They’re more independent workers, you can have fun with them, they understand your jokes and I like the curriculum,” Butler said.
She saw many changes during her nearly four decades. The biggest one was the curriculum, she said.
“When I started teaching, what was sixth-grade material is now taught in the second and third grades,” she said. “They really do challenge the kids a lot, but I kind of think we ought to back off and let kids be kids.”
Another change has been the level of respect students show teachers.
“Kids can challenge you now, and teachers as a whole spend a lot of time disciplining kids,” she said. “It’s hard to hear kids tell me no, they’re not going to do something. But you also have kids who are extremely respectful.”
Butler’s biggest challenge, though, has been the rise of computers.
“I never did meet that challenge-I was too far behind,” she said. “We have to put all our grades on computers, so you’re constantly working with them, and if you have curriculum mapping or you attend meetings, it’s all done on computers.
“Tabor students are coming in with all that knowledge because they grew up with it. Second-grade students can even do PowerPoint.”
Butler’s most important test, though, came three years ago when she faced cancer. Ever the educator, she took a life-threatening situation and transformed it into a learning experience.
“I tried to teach everyone that you can meet challenges,” she said. “I had a lady tell me she’ll never forget the day I took off my hat and wig and I didn’t have any hair (because of chemotherapy).
“One of the kids said, ‘What if they laugh at you,’ and I said that would be disappointing because I couldn’t help it that I didn’t have any hair,” Butler said.
“But not one kid laughed, and I think that’s because they realized I was the same person whether I had hair or not.”
Her career has been rewarding.
“I’ve had several students come back and tell me I was a big influence on their life,” she said. “Some were new students who had just moved to town, and I took them under my wing and helped their transition to Hillsboro.
Butler has no regrets about starting and ending he career in the same town. “I like Hillsboro, I like the kids and I like to do stuff with them,” she said. “I wasn’t trained in anything else and never had any other interests.
“But I’ve met so many people and made so many friends,” she said. “I love going to watch ball games and watching the kids-my kids-play. It’s fun when kids get older and come back.”
Butler said teaching has provided her with a fantastic career, but it’s not a job for everyone.
“You have to like kids and you have to have a handle on dealing with personalities,” she said. “Everything isn’t glamorous by any means. I feel teachers need to be held accountable that kids are learning.”
Looking ahead, Butler said she’ll have to adjust to not going to school in this fall, a routine she’s followed for 55 years.
“I sure won’t miss the schedule, but I’ll miss the kids and my coworkers and friends,” she said. “I’ll miss just being involved and knowing what’s going on.”
Butler’s short-range plans include trips to Australia, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Her long-range plans are undecided, but Butler hasn’t ruled out coming back to school.
“After I kind of unwind for a year, I might consider helping kids read, or things like that-but I don’t want to be a substitute,” she said.
Butler will be honored with a public reception Sunday, June 4 at the HES Library from 2-4 p.m.
“I have no regrets about the past 38 years,” she said. “I have lots of stories and got to live a lot of fun times.
“I only hope I’ve had as much influence on my former students and their parents as they’ve had on me.”