This is why I teach in Baltimore schools | COMMENTARY

Sixth grade students crowd around their teacher, Kyair Butts, an English language arts teacher at Waverly Elementary/Middle School, after he was named the City Schools' 2019 Teacher of the Year. Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises presented the award during a surprise visit to his classroom.

For some, the longer they’re in education, the more cynical they get. They can’t help but see minor cracks and faults. For me, however, the longer I work with Baltimore City Public Schools, the more committed I am to be a healthy presence for my kids in the classroom.

Too often we complain about what is not or what is wrong, yet we have the most resilient kids in the state and probably the country. We have some kids that have to grow up all too soon. Some are tasked with more responsibility than we as adults shoulder, and yet they come to school, grind, work, learn — and they do it without complaint.


Friends, I am asking you all to stand up and stand with me as we send forth our own tiny ripples of hope into the universe. Protect Baltimore and city schools so that our home is not tarnished by those on the outside, because our love and service will triumph. Let our ripples of hope send our kids to school to become their highest possibility and in doing so, allow others (even ourselves) to do the same.

Whatever your call to service is, answer it. I am forever grateful that when Baltimore City Public Schools “called” and asked me to serve that I answered because there is no greater district with more resilient kids than ours. I am at my most powerful when I am serving.


As a black male, one who won Baltimore City Public Schools Teacher of the Year in 2019, I know that contemporary times have misguided some in their thinking of our city. The current landscape has made it hard to be a black city, a mostly black district and a person of color in general. Here are the facts as I see them every day: I serve children, and I serve them proudly.

I am greeted each morning by the hopes, dreams and passions that will lead this city and state into the next decade, century and beyond. I am surrounded by the curiosity, intellect and drive that make me proud to represent Baltimore City Public Schools. You see, when some say we can’t, I say we can and we will — it’s what serving is all about. We have stumbled as a district, but we will get up, and we’ll do that together and keep fighting.

This fundamental desire to answer the call to serve, this desire to be more is rooted in the belief that our kids can. Time and again, they have shown me that this too shall pass by overcoming, conquering and redefining what it means to be great.

I’m reminded of a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” I could not agree more, and it’s why I have dedicated myself to serving students, their families and the greater Baltimore community.

Every day in the classroom is a moment to build knowledge, be kind and do big things. Teaching is the greatest job in the world because all other jobs are possible because of us. This year with our new curriculum, Wit and Wisdom, I am engaging students in discussions of resiliency, heroism, narrating the unknown and exploring harsh environments. In addition to the content, I model integrity and character because it’s what we do, it is part of the service I was called to do. Working in Baltimore City Public Schools isn’t a job; it’s a way of life that is supported by the care, dedication and passion of my kids and families.

I say to everyone, that in moments when we think we aren’t enough, be reminded that you are more than enough. Together, you and I can form the greatest “we” and “us” mentality that will go undefeated in the test of times. As we look to find answers to what 2020 will bring us, know the answers are within you, within me. Be you, be more.

Kyair Butts (, the Teacher of the Year 2019 for Baltimore City Public Schools, teaches 6th grade literacy.