It was down to two days before school would begin and a replacement math teacher had yet to be found, so Leslie Butler (’91), an English teacher of eight years, volunteered for the job. “I had always liked math, so I figured I’d give it a try,” she said. She began teaching while taking some math classes at the McKay School of Education, quickly adapting to fit the needs of her students. She has now been a math teacher at Millcreek Jr. High for eight years. It is this kind of versatility and devotion to teaching that would eventually win her the 2005 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math Teaching—the country’s highest honor in her field.
Butler is one of 50 math teachers nationwide to receive this honor. The award is given after an initial selection process at the state level and then recommendation by a panel of distinguished mathematicians and other educators. In addition to a $10,000 grant, Butler was awarded a trip to Washington, DC, where she accepted a certificate and met with President George W. Bush.
It is hardly surprising to learn that as far back as she can recall, Butler has aspired to becoming a teacher. “When I was in a class at school or in church, I liked to think of different ways I would have taught the lesson,” she remembers.
Her love of teaching and of learning was magnified as she attended BYU. When registering for classes, she would gather opinions from fellow students about the best professors, then sign up for classes with those recommended by friends. As a result, Butler can recall numerous BYU professors who inspired her in her educational pursuits. “I’ve always loved learning in general,” she says, “and I’ve had so many great teachers.” She is also grateful for the influence of favorite high school teacher Kim Burningham as well as friend Mary Jean Wolfe, who worked at her first school.
Now, after having been a teacher at Millcreek Jr. High for the past 13 years, Butler has certainly had a strong positive influence on her own students. Her success as an educator can be attributed not only to her personal love of learning, but also to her concern for her students as individuals. “The most important thing is to really care about the people you teach,” she explains. “What I enjoy most about teaching is the kids.”