Posted September 21, 2021 — Clinical Assistant Professor Keith Butcher became aware of the transformative power of teaching when his fifth grade teacher took an interest in his success.
In addition to reviewing his test results with him, she also nurtured his love of music by playing the piano for him every day in class. Her support inspired him to get a bachelor’s in music education and dedicate his life to teaching.
“She drew me out as a student, and that’s when I became aware of the power of not only teaching but the power of mentoring and coaching,” said Butcher, who now serves as the director of the principal preparation program at the University of Houston College of Education.
Over the years, Butcher has served as a teacher, principal and school district superintendent. For his dedication to his graduate students, he earned a 2021 Teaching Excellence Award from the College.
“My primary interest is always to make sure I am meeting the needs of the students in my classes,” he said.
Learn more about Butcher and his teaching experience in the Q&A below:
What is your teaching philosophy?
My philosophy is to inspire, encourage and mentor students — to improve education and make a difference in students’ lives through system improvement and transformative leadership.
What makes a great teacher?
I think the best teachers are lifelong learners. It is waking up every single day and thinking, “How can I improve my teaching? How can I improve learning from my students? How can I achieve better results for the students I have the opportunity to teach?”
How does teaching K-12 compare to teaching at the university level?
Whether you’re working with teachers to become school administrators or working with fifth graders, the first important thing that you need to do is to build a relationship, and not just with students — with parents, the community, your colleagues and the administration.
What do you love most about teaching?
It’s the personal relationships you build with students, that individual coaching and mentoring role where you’re making a difference in people’s lives. All of us need good mentors and coaches who are encouraging us and saying, “Have you thought about applying to this? Have you considered this opportunity?” We’ve all benefited from having those people in our lives.
How do you connect with students?
Quickly learning students’ names and their interests, making sure they have opportunities in classrooms that are based on their interests or addressing the problems they’re facing in their own classroom. I also have students share with me what their future goals are because then I am able to shape experiences within a classroom that will connect to the work experience they’re seeking.
What is your favorite assignment and subject to teach?
Assignments that cause them to engage with each other and their school. Every single course that we have in our program has applied tasks and assignments. We have a data informed leadership course, in which students are looking at the data in their own school to uncover problems, develop action research around that and make a difference in their school based on the information they’re learning in their course. This program is not about learning about leadership; it’s doing leadership.
How has the pandemic affected your teaching?
I was a fan of Nearpod, Kahoot! and other tools in my face-to-face classes to increase engagement, group work and applied learning — not a fan of lecture myself. I was already using some technology, but when we transitioned to doing everything online, I very quickly had to get up to speed on how to use Teams and applications like Zoom to come as close to the experiences we were having face to face as we possibly could. I hope we don’t forget all those tools that we learned as we transition back to the way our programs are approved.
What is a fun fact about yourself that not many people know?
I had the opportunity to perform in “Madame Butterfly” with the West Virginia Symphony as an adult. It was opening night, and we were backstage after a performance, and I turned around, and my fifth grade teacher was standing by the curtain, watching. I went over to her and said, “It is impossible for me to express the thanks that I have for the difference that you made in my life.” And she just kind of shared, “I always knew that you were going to do great things.”
— By Lillian Hoang