Spotlight: Charlotte Buskill (KY '22)March 29, 2023
The teachers who helped Charlotte Buskill (KY ’22) through her early struggles with dyslexia inspired her to pursue a career in the classroom: “Their insurmountable dedication to my success showed me early on the compassion, love and determination that educators possess.” The third grade teacher received her Milken Award at Newton Parrish Elementary in Owensboro on November 10, 2022.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?
Charlotte Buskill (KY ’22): I was inspired by a family of educators. We often say it is “the family business.” My maternal great-grandmother was a teacher and principal. My mom still teaches in the school district I attended K-12. My older and younger sisters are also elementary teachers.
My own experiences also heavily influenced my desire to be an educator. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school. During my early school years I was challenged with reading difficulties. Yet despite those struggles I had an army of dedicated educators advocating for me. The insurmountable dedication of those educators who saw to it that I succeeded showed me early on the compassion, love and determination that educators possess.
MFF: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Charlotte: Witnessing the awe that surrounds childhood. There is so much joy and excitement in the littlest moments. Children are so full of passions, desires and love in the most extravagant and simple everyday things. It reminds me to be humbled by the world we live in and to reflect on the little things that make us tick.
MFF: What strategies do you use to support students’ literacy growth?
Charlotte: I try to ignite their passion for enjoying a good book. I think that having students enjoy reading is incredibly important if they’re going to be invested in using reading to learn about the world. If I can get a child excited about reading a book, then they’ll learn from that text. Introducing students to the right books is the gateway to getting them to enjoy reading. That’s one of my primary objectives — connecting each student with an author, series or genre that gets them hooked.
I have found that showing students how passionate I am about reading, and talking about my favorite books and authors, also piques their interest. Sharing what I enjoy often helps them find what they are interested in. And teaching students to connect what we are learning to the real world is incredibly helpful. Students want honesty. Showing students directly how what we are learning connects to the world outside of school helps them feel the purpose of learning.
MFF: What kinds of projects do students do in your STEM club?
Charlotte: I sponsor the STLP (Student Technology Leadership Program), an after-school club. We focus on the engineering process for problem-solving, presentation and collaboration. Students work on identifying a problem in the classroom, school or community and initiate a solution by integrating technology.
MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?
Charlotte: It was a rollercoaster. There was so much joy in finally being able to have my own classroom! Yet the challenges of behavior management, learning how to advocate for my students, managing the curriculum — it was a heavy load to bear. I remember feeling such bliss, knowing I finally had my own class, while at the same time wondering, “Who on Earth thought I was ready for this?” The hardest parts were the countless times I questioned myself and my capacity to make it as a successful educator.
I was blessed by the administrators who supported me during my first year. Mr. Bratcher, my principal, balanced supporting me and giving me time to figure out the ropes through trial and error. I appreciate his patience in giving me space to try my methods, and providing feedback and support when I needed it.
I was gifted with an incredible mentor teacher. Mrs. Julie Smith, then the reading specialist, was there for my highest highs and lowest lows. Her kindness and support were the world to me. She was able to push and critique me at the same time, helping me strengthen my practice. The curriculum facilitator at the time, Cami Faulkerson, was incredibly caring as well. I remember a specific moment when I was feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. She pulled me aside and told me she had seen good educators, and she knew I was going to be one of the really great ones. That meant so much to me: In some of my weakest moments as a first year teacher, someone saw in me the passion and will to be the best I could be.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Charlotte: My role models are the experienced teachers who have been in the trenches of everyday classrooms far longer than I have. Teachers who have been through administration, standard, curriculum and assessment changes carry so much collective knowledge. I look to my colleagues, especially my current teammates, to push me and help me grow in my own practices. Teaching is definitely not a career that can be done without collaboration. I have been blessed by colleagues who have poured into me to be my best.
My elementary teachers were some of my favorites. I will never forget the relationships that each one of them invested time to build with me. Mrs. Kathy Westermeier, my elementary librarian, has a special place in my heart for the encouragement she gave me the first time I was able to read a chapter book and check it out from the library. The hug she gave me showed her true excitement for my huge achievement, and that still resonates with me today.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Charlotte: The feelings that encompassed me are close to indescribable. It was like an out-of-body experience. I was completely shocked when my name was announced, completely surprised. The entire experience had such a quick turnaround, from not knowing why we were going to a whole-school assembly, then realizing there were camera crews in the building, all the way to hearing my name announced. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something quite like it!
As soon as my name was called, I remember not knowing if I was supposed to stand up and walk to the front of the room. I don’t think I really processed it all until the following day, when my students were mentioning just how crazy the announcement really was. It has been a humbling experience and I am so grateful. I cannot express my gratitude to the educators who have contributed to building me into the educator I am today. I would not be where I am without the countless educators who inspired me and empowered me to learn and overcome challenges in learning.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Charlotte: Oh goodness, the absolute best part of the entire experience was seeing how my students responded. They were my biggest cheerleaders. Not only was it a huge impact on the students in my classroom, but countless former students just had to stop by my room in the following weeks to congratulate me or remind me how awesome it was “that one time when I won the money.” It has had a lasting impact on my students both in my room and outside of it. I even discovered that a few months after the announcement one of my students had changed his screen saver to a picture of me holding the check — he found it on Google. That made me smile and realize it wasn’t just a moment for me. It was a moment for them, too!
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?
Charlotte: Only a few short weeks before the huge surprise, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child! Overjoyed by both the blessing of anticipating our little one’s arrival and receiving this monetary gift, we are putting that money towards our financial future as we prepare to become first-time parents.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Charlotte: I define success as the ability to see growth. Success can be measured in so many different ways, but true success comes from within yourself, when you acknowledge the growth you are making based on the efforts you are putting into your work. I see students each and every day making leaps and bounds in their understanding of academics and social interactions. But not all aspects of learning can be measured. That is why I feel that success is determined by how we view ourselves, seeing where we started and where we are going.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Charlotte: It is my biggest hope that students remember how much love I have for them and how much I want to invest in them. As the saying goes, students will remember how you made them feel. Relationships are the entry point to helping a child blossom academically.
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