Whether it is her friends, former MSU professors or current colleagues, Shawntasia Butler (19), fourth- and fifth-grade Functional Mental Disability (FMD) teacher at Rodburn Elementary School in Morehead, is known for having a positive attitude. While she said that disposition is something she has had from a young age, she said her students always give her a boost.
“Every day working in special education, I have learned to find the little joys in everything. Anyone who has taught special education knows that our students find joy in anything,” Butler said. “They radiate happiness even when they have a bad day. I try to do the same.”
Growing up in Louisville, Butler always enjoyed school and found it a source of confidence and pride. She always wanted to go to college and while she considered pursuing a career in nursing or law, she still leaned toward becoming a teacher. This direction became even more apparent in high school when she became a peer tutor and later started working with special needs children.
Butler’s best friend told her about Morehead State and she initially enrolled because of its small class sizes and affordability. After spending time at MSU, she found there was much more to love.
“I appreciated how the ‘Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle’ was more than just a saying. My professors cared about me outside the classroom. They really supported me and helped me be as successful as they could,” Butler said. “Even now that I’m in graduate school, I still communicate with some of my undergraduate professors regularly.”
One of those professors was education instructor Suzannah Chapman-Johnson (12). Whether she joined her for yearly Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) conferences or her daily interactions with her in the classroom, she said she was a considerable influence on her passion and direction.
“Chapman-Johnson and her classes shaped me into the person I am in and out of the classroom. She gave me real tools to use in the classroom. Everything she taught me had a reason and applied to multiple aspects of my life,” Butler said. “Most importantly, she challenged me as a person. She made me work harder than I ever had, she forced me out of my comfort zone, and she accepted nothing but my absolute best. She was always direct and honest. I don’t think I’d be half the teacher or person I am had I not taken her classes.”
Butler earned a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education Moderate to Severe Disabilities and Elementary Education in 2019. She ended up at Rodburn Elementary School, the same school she observed for field experience while earning her education degree at MSU.
“I was thinking that I would apply to jobs all over Kentucky and I would accept the one I got in the place I liked the most. When the opportunity came to apply for the job I have now, I didn’t apply for anything else after because I wanted to work here more than anything,” she said. “I knew my students through observations and the school and district were filled with people I had grown to enjoy being around.”
Butler has enjoyed teaching in a small-town environment versus her larger Louisville hometown due to the community bonds and the impact she sees firsthand. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she is also witnessing the challenges of teaching in a smaller community, which only fuels her desire to make a difference where she can.
“The challenges that come with rural areas are the lack of opportunities and resources. COVID has really exposed how much rural areas lack resources and opportunities. Many students don’t have access to the internet, electronics to do work, food, etc.,” she said. “We are working around the clock to be able to support students whose parents are working during the day and don’t have the ability to get schoolwork done during school hours.”
Butler takes her role in helping rural schools seriously. She was recently selected to be a part of the Rural Schools Collaborative’s (RSC) inaugural Young Educator’s Advisory (YEA) Council in conjunction with its I Am A Rural Teacher Campaign. These educators will help strengthen the RSC’s mission for recruitment, preparation and retention of rural teachers.
“I felt that it was somewhere to start making an impact. As a new teacher, there’s so much that you experience,” Butler said. “It is nice to have a group of people who are working to help support young rural teachers. I felt that being a part of this group would be a chance to help other young teachers like me feel more confident and make an impact in the community that they work in.”
Due to her dedication to her field and her passion for helping others, Butler believes she will acquire many more titles and ways to grow as an educator. That being said, no title will ever capture the most rewarding part of her job: making a difference in her students and their families’ lives.
“The most fulfilling part of being a teacher is when the students think of you, even outside the classroom. They bring you pictures they’ve drawn for you or they want to share something they have and enjoy. Their parents talk about how much they love coming to school because of you. Moments like those are what reassures me that I can do this for a long time.”Shawntasia Butler
For more information about MSU’s Volgenau College of Education and its programs, call 606-783-2162 or visit www.moreheadstate.edu/education.
Morehead State University’s Volgenau College of Education offers a reduced tuition rate to all Kentucky schoolteachers and other educators enrolled in courses within our College of Education. For more details on the reduced tuition offer, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/kyeducators.