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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Butler teacher retires after entire career at same school

Jul 31, 2018 01:28PM ● By Julie Slama

The last class Butler Elementary teacher Casandra Mackris taught before retiring gives her a farewell hug. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected] 

When Casandra Mackris started teaching 38 years ago, calculators were a new learning tool. Now, students have calculators built in on their cellphones. 

“Technology — students help me out with it now,” Mackris said. “It’s good to combine the new technology with the old methods.”

While she said technology seems to preoccupy some students, others use it to learn from games or look up facts.

“It’s the way it is in our society and education is in step with the changes,” she said. 

Not that Mackris will have to worry much now about staying in tune with educational changes. After 38 years — her entire teaching career — at Butler Elementary, she cleaned out her classroom for the last time in June and retired. Butler students will see a new face teaching second grade this fall. 

“I was told ‘you’ll know when it’s time to retire’ and in my heart, I know it’s time. I’ll now have time for other projects at my house like gardening and cooking or little jaunts to go on — and for reading. You’d think I’d have time all these years to get more reading in, but there’s always papers to grade,” she said, adding that her teaching career actually started as a youngster when she “played school” with her sister. “I will miss the kids the most and the special relationships I develop and just the daily part of our routine. I just hope my students will remember to put their best foot forward when they work hard and play fair.” 

Mackris was surprised when her current and former faculty joined together to present a tree planted in her honor in the last weeks of the school year. The tree, with a plaque dedicated to her, is in front of the two-year-old Butler Elementary. 

“It is so nice to have windows now and see the sunshine,” she said. “To think, for 36 years, I didn’t know what the weather was like when it was time to leave until I walked outside.” 

Her principal, Jeff Nalwalker, estimated that she has taught about 1,000 students through more than one-third of the school’s 95-year history. 

“Not many people have this rare opportunity to profoundly affect the course of so many human lives,” he wrote in a letter to her. “Stop and think how lucky those almost 1,000 people are to have sat at your feet, learned to do math, learned to read, learned to write and learned to get along with one another. Wow! I believe they were especially lucky to have their hearts touched by a kind and gentle soul such as yourself. Your influence will live on far into the future as these students raise families of their own.” 

“Statistics say that 5.5 of your students have become or will yet become teachers themselves. Certainly, among those, one could recognize in their practice a routine, a phrase, a spark or gentle way that they saw in your practice while they were students in your classroom.” 

Colleagues describe Mackris as having a huge impact with students in her quiet manner. 

“She’s reserved,” third-grade teacher Ann Marie Sulzen said. “She may have the loudest kids in her class, but her room is totally quiet. She has a sweet, kind demeanor and is passionate about student learning. She can take some of the lowest kids and have them achieve high success in academic growth.”

Former library assistant Debbie Tyler said the soft-spoken Mackris was always organized and calm. 

“She’s touched so many lives and always made sure everyone checked out a book,” she said. “All her kids were good readers.”

Keeping students engaged is something Administrative Assistant Teresa Draney recalls about her students in Mackris’ classroom. 

“She has a low-key personality and has the ability to keep everyone interested in the class,” she said. “She’s always precise, having her T’s crossed and her I’s dotted. She helps students who are struggling and goes over and over the material in her kind and gentle way until they understand.” 

Draney said her youngest son was so taken with Mackris that he wanted her to join them during the holidays. 

“He invited her to Thanksgiving dinner,” she said, adding that Mackris thanked him for the invitation, but spent it with her family. 

Second-grade dual immersion teacher Kahina Naudot said she often sees high school students visit Mackris. 

“They remember how sweet and kind she is and tell her how much they love her,” Naudot said. “Just last week, students came in to give her hugs.”

Students still appreciate their teacher, even in the last full day of her teaching career.

Second-grader Wyatt Fortie said she has helped him with math. 

“She’s helped me with addition, subtraction, dividing and times,” he said. “She gives us independent practice and if nobody gets it, she goes back until we do. She’s really awesome.” 

His classmate Aggy Deagle said Mackris has helped her as well. 

“She’s kind and helpful,”Aggy said. “If I have a question, she helps me. She makes sure I understand what is wrong on a test and is really kind about it. I’m kind of sad and happy she’s retiring. She deserves it since she’s taught a long time, but I’ll miss her.”