Bryan Butcher Jr.: Making the classroom feel like home
Updated: Apr 14
Bryan Butcher Jr., a math teacher at Beaumont Middle School, always wanted to teach. But during his first year, he struggled like many other teachers do and doubted whether teaching was really for him. Students and parents reached out at the end of the year and they convinced him he was having a positive impact and made him decide he needed to stick with it.
Bryan’s parents instilled in him the importance of figuring out what you want to do, so when you go to work, it’s not just work, but also something you love doing. For Bryan with his doubts about it now in the distant past, this is teaching. He loves it so much he teaches summer school through Self Enhancement, Inc., a mentoring program and a pillar in Portland’s black community that Bryan first got involved in when he was in grade two.
For the school year itself, Bryan teaches 6th and 7th grade math. In the classroom, he places an emphasis on making students feel at home. “I create a space where students walk in and they know they can make a mistake and that’s okay,” he said. “In order to do that, you have to be confident and you have to trust the space because middle school is a tough age.”
To do this, Bryan encourages his students to actively participate in making their classroom unique. He wants them to know “you have input and this is your space as well,” he said. They have a ‘fridge’ where students can post photos of their life. They have a buy-in wall, which is designed by artists from the class, where students can sign their name when they have bought into the class’s guiding principles of respect and effort. “It turns into a space where kids are just excited to do some math,” he said.
He also gives his 6th graders nicknames tailored to their personalities. For him, this is all a part of a larger effort to let his students know that he cares about them and doesn’t just think about them as a math student. “I try to notice every single person and something about them that has nothing to do with math to recognize them as a person,” he said.
When students start to feel at home in the classroom, the way that they do math evolves. “If I put up a problem at the beginning of the year, [my students] might have all just looked at it,” he said. Later on in the year, they “might get up and move around the classroom, talk to each other, have a discourse around mathematics that brings [them] to an answer.”
Bryan got into education because he wanted to help and support people as they grow like this. He credits his wife with helping him get through the early years and sees his parents as the role models that led him to teaching in the first place. “It is something I really can wake up and do,” said Bryan. “It hasn’t gotten old after ten years.”
Photos courtesy of Bryan Butcher Jr.