Cherie Bussert and Donna Budil are those teachers. We’ve all had them before–the ones who we wish we would find standing in front of the chalkboards every September, the ones who instill within us a vibrant appreciation of something we never thought we could value or ever would, the ones who we still keep in touch with through annual holiday cards and updates with photos of our growing families.
Among the many dedicated teachers in Forest Park schools, Bussert and Budil were recognized by their respective principals as invaluable to the schools, the students and the community in light of Teacher Appreciation Week recognized nationally earlier this month.
Bussert began teaching in 1986 and has worked as a librarian at Field-Stevenson for 12 years, while Budil has taught music at the Forest Park Middle School since 1970. Both District 91 teachers are driven to encourage the idea of respect and kindness within their students and to illuminate some of life’s greatest treasures. For Bussert, books provide the medium to discovering those treasures.
“With my position as a librarian, our main focus is creating life-long readers,” Bussert said. “Seeing students get excited about reading and connecting them to a series or authors are our goals.”
One of the unique aspects of Bussert’s position as librarian is the originality of each day and the challenges that comes with that.
“In my position, there’s a ton of variety” Bussert said. “I see 600 children every week. The lesson that I’ve learned is that you can never become complacent. Every year has its own set of unique challenges. Things that worked last year might not work this year.”
Such a task requires a steadfast patience and a seemingly immeasurable amount of energy, which Bussert’s colleagues believe she possesses.
“Cheri has an engaging, but patient teaching style,” Louise Bruggerman, Bussert’s library clerk since 2005, said. “She works directly with the children and often has an activity that gets them involved. She’s always very hands on. Considering the distress of a school, Cheri’s always very calm.”
Principal Robert Giovannani agreed that Bussert’s pleasant disposition and optimistic nature shine through.
“It’s her whole positive philosophy that is important to the school,” Giovannani said. “With the students, she almost evangelizes them to love books and reading.”
Bussert’s refreshing and communal approach to the school has affected not only her students but also other staff in the school.
“She’s taught me how to conduct a class, select books, how to view the differences between private and public libraries,” Bruggerman, said. “It’s her knowledge of the library-the core of the school-that makes her the cornerstone of it. Teacher’s can consult her and she provides resources for the whole community of the school-students, teachers, administration and parents. She’s been a wonderful mentor.”
While Bussert’s strong affection for reading and books helps makes the library the pulsating heart of Field-Stevenson, Budil enlightens her students with another artistic medium.
“Teaching music has been the only real job I’ve ever had, other than working during college,” Budil said. “I’ve been offered positions elsewhere, but I’ve always chosen to stay here. The school has been very supportive of the music program, and that’s important to me. Plus, I’ve always gotten a good response from choir activities, made good friends and enjoyed teaching.”
This year, Budil taught a world music class, an American pop music class, and a general music class to her students.
“I enjoy the light bulb moments when students suddenly know what they are doing, when they become aware and they share the insight and become excited,” Budil said. “I love the performance aspect when students are on stage and shine. So scared in the beginning and they come off and they love it. It builds their self confidence; they grow as people.”
Being a music teacher, Budil often faces a groan from students who are more prone to listen to Jay-Z and Linkin Park than Mozart and Scott Joplin on their ipods.
But Budil’s passion for all kinds of music keeps her from disparaging the popular music of the latest generation. When she first began to teach a group of young male students who wanted to start a rock band, Budil let them practice in the music lab.
“I want the students to be open to as many possible kinds of music,” Budil said. “They tend today to put themselves in tiny corners of music. I try to introduce them to many forms and tell them to experience as much as possible to become better listeners. I want them to be at least good concert ticket buyers.”
During the 30 years of teaching, Budil has customized her own style of educating, and has adapted it to the changes in American culture and society.
“My teaching style is laidback and calm with the kids,” Budil said. “But I am very well-organized. I don’t want to be their buddy; I am trying to be a strong mentor and a reasonable person.
“I don’t believe kids are different than in the past,” Budil said. “Their influences are different, but they have the same joys and sorrows and levels of maturation as time goes by. They’re funny, cute, sometimes exhausting–but they’re kids. It keeps me young.”
Many of the faculty and staff have taken notice of Budil’s presence, and according to one administrator, her dedication is exemplary.
“She’s been teaching for 37 years,” Principal Karen Bukowski said. “And now she is teaching third generation and beyond. That kind of feat is unheard of nowadays. She gives 110 percent in every thing that she does.”