The world of education is filled with teachers who come from all different backgrounds, with a wide range of knowledge and skills to pass on to their students. Yazoo City High School has one such teacher, who after retiring from teaching many years ago, still brings a love of science and biology to local students today.
Mrs. Juanita Butler was born and raised in Jackson and graduated from Holy Ghost Catholic School at the age of 17. Though she had originally desired to join the U.S. Navy, Butler followed her father's wishes and attended Tougaloo College. While at Tougaloo, Butler became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and later earned a Bachelor's Degree in Science.
After graduating from college, Butler began her teaching career for the Jackson Public School district at Lanier Junior Senior High School during the era of segregation in 1964.
It was during this time that Butler met her husband Percy Butler Sr., and they began their life together, married for 50 years until his passing in 2017.
Butler spent much of her early career traveling with her husband while teaching and raising their sons, Paul Shawn Butler and Percy L. Butler Jr.
Wanting to further her education in science, Butler achieved her Master's Degree in Science from Albany State University in Albany, Georgia, and later earned a Specialist's Degree in Science after attending John Hopkins University and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Back in Mississippi, Butler continued her career teaching at the Jackson Public Schools, including the campuses of Whitten Junior High, Hardy Middle School and Siwell Road Middle School. The last ten years of Butler's teaching career took place in Northwest Jackson Middle School until she retired in 2001.
It was in August of 2001 that Butler's retirement was interrupted by the call to teach once again, but this time, it was to teach in Yazoo City.
"Dr. John Holmes was a fraternity brother of my husband, and his secretary knew me from Whitten," Butler said. "They called me on a Thursday and asked me if I would come and see them about teaching science for the alternative school in Yazoo City. I said, 'I don't even know where Yazoo City is,' but I went anyway."
After a short meeting with administrators, Butler began the second part of her teaching career with the Yazoo City Schools in 2001, and since then has educated students in science at the Alternative School, Woolfolk Middle School, and at Yazoo City High School.
Butler was involved in teaching 62 juniors and seniors four class periods a day, from 7:30 a.m. until noon five days a week.
Butler's Specialist's Degree in Science has given her a license to teach higher level subject matter to Yazoo City students, such as Botany, a deeper study of plant life, and Zoology, a deeper study of animal life.
"I had some anxiety at first if the students would be able to take on the more difficult subject matter," Butler said. "But then I felt like it was my job, my position, to let them know about these subjects and the fields they could lead the students to. There are opportunities in the world that you can get a good job by learning this subject matter. Doctors, nurses, forensic scientists, you name it. You will always need people to major in science because there are branches that they can go into and get a job and go somewhere with their life."
Butler said that part of her method of teaching introduces students to higher levels of scientific words and vocabulary.
"Vocabulary is important in science, but for a lot of children, their vocabulary is not where it should be in junior and senior high school," she said. "For example, I had a girl tell me that she wanted to be a "baby doctor" and I showed her the name for that field is actually a gynecologist or an obstetrician. Once my students come into science class, I speak nothing but science words. I tell them to learn their prefixes and suffixes, and take a foreign language course, because when you do that it improves your English."
Other learning opportunities that Butler gives to her students include building scrapbooks on research for a specific plant or animal, and also has them research recent African American scientists and the positive impact they have made on the world today.
"My favorite part about teaching is when students present their work to the class, how their little faces and eyes light up, and how much they get into it," she said. "The only challenge that I have with teaching is that we don't have enough science equipment like microscopes or science kits. The students need to be able to manipulate things and see them change."
Butler said that while she understands that all subjects are important in schools, and that funding can be an issue, she believes that giving students more opportunities to explore science can broaden their minds and give them a different view of the world.
"An educated person is a well-rounded person," she said. "You learn things not in just one or two subjects, but in all subjects. You don't have to be superior but you want them to know something about everything in life."
After 19 years of teaching in the Yazoo City School District, Butler said her wish would be for the high school to have a complete science lab with equipment and kits, and said that keeping a well-maintained inventory would help to preserve the educational tools for many years.
"Lesson plans and books are fine, but a child needs to see what happens when you mix chemicals together," she said. "In all of my years of experience, you grow as you teach, but students need you to teach them and give them opportunities to learn."
Now working into her 56th year as an educator, Butler said she will continue to drive to Yazoo City from Jackson every day to teach students who need her the most.
"These students also need to be pushed at home too, to see that they can be more and do more," she said. "Sometimes our kids have things going on at home so that they can't leave Yazoo, but I tell them to go places and see new things, go to college, get scholarships, and when you learn something and become successful, bring it back home to your neighborhood and make it a better place."