Self-published author joins the English teaching ranks at Sunny Hills

New+English+teacher+Thomas+Butler+goes+over+his+goals+for+the+beginning+of+the+school+year+with+his+sixth+period+sophomore+honors+English+class.

Audrey Seo

New English teacher Thomas Butler goes over his goals for the beginning of the school year with his sixth period sophomore honors English class.

Yeihn Lee

Sunny Hills now has a resident author among its teaching staff.

New English teacher Thomas Butler has two paperback novels available on Amazon – Some Experience Preferred for $14.99 and originally for sale July 13, 2019, and Two Guns, 1 Mile for $14.99 and originally for sale May 7, 2021, according to the online retailer’s website.

The former, a 382-page independently published work, is a humorous crime novel. The latter, at 287 pages, features a collection of short fiction and historical fiction inspired by his personal experiences, according to Amazon.com.

“The title for Two Guns, 1 Mile … came from a road trip I took [to Arizona] with my wife in 2001,” Butler said. “We passed a sun-worn, bullet-pocked highway sign announcing the name of the town and the distance, and my wife noted that it would make a great name for a book.”

The self-published author said he writes novels for the experience rather than for the purpose of making money.

“[I make] enough to make it worthwhile, but I’m not getting rich,” he said. “As for future publishing, I will always explore all the options available; traditional publishing can certainly pay better, but it often requires quite a bit of compromise, [and] independent publishing allows freedom of content, but you pay for it with lots and lots of labor.”

Butler, who was hired over the summer to teach five sophomore honors English classes, said he began to pursue his talent in creative writing when he was in high school, even getting some of his works published back then.

“My high school work was mostly recognized in high school writing contests and district writing competitions,” said Butler, who grew up in Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Upper Arlington High School in 1996.

For college, he said he wanted a change of scenery – so much that he opted to move all the way to Long Beach.

“I wanted to be someplace different from Ohio, and at the time CSULB [California State University, Long Beach] was one of the only universities that had a bachelor’s program for creative writing,” Butler said. “Arguably, the best program was at the University of Iowa, but that was not a big enough change from Ohio for me.”

By his second year of college in 1998, the Ohio native said he was able to get his work published in the Pearl Literary Magazine, a journal published in Long Beach until 2014, and in a national magazine, Ceramics Monthly, during his senior year around 2000.

After graduating from CSULB in 2001 with his bachelor’s degree in creative writing and English, Butler said he returned two years later to work toward obtaining a single subject teaching credential in English at CSULB. 

By 2005, he got his first teaching job at David Starr Jordan High School in Long Beach, where he taught 10th-grade English, 12th-grade English and Creative Writing and advised the Stylus campus literary magazine.

“I love teaching any subject, but being able to teach creative writing is especially rewarding,” Butler said. “Producing the literary magazine was an incredible, frustrating-but-fantastic experience.”

He wasn’t really working on his own fiction writing then except for a few short stories and essays.

Butler’s experiences didn’t directly make it into any of his self-published works because he never bases an event or a character on something that happened to him, his family or his students, but neither can he make the claim that they do not influence him.

Two years later in 2007, he had to move out of state again.

“My parents retired to Sedona, Ariz., and at the time a two-bedroom house in Long Beach was selling for $750,000, so we decided to relocate to be closer to family and hopefully be able to buy a house,” Butler said. “We discovered that it wasn’t a good fit for us, so we returned to California the next year.”

While living in Arizona, he said he taught ninth grade English and drama for a year at Camp Verde High School, a small rural campus.

Upon returning from Arizona in 2008, he took a position with NOVA Academy, a small charter school in Santa Ana, where he remained for 13 years.

Despite his time there, Butler said he missed the culture of schools with a larger student population. And that’s how he ended up finding out about the opening here and then applying for it.

“After my first week with my Lancers, I can say that coming to Sunny Hills has been the best move I have made in my career,” he said. “So far, everything is going very well; [I have] great students, great colleagues and a very welcoming community.”

“After my first week with my Lancers, I can say that coming to Sunny Hills has been the best move I have made in my career.””

— english teacher Thomas Butler

Butler likes to have his students get involved during class, so he always has them answer questions through Socratic seminars.

“Mr. Butler has been a great teacher so far, and I am really enjoying his class,” said sophomore Annika Bhatiya, who’s in his fifth period class but was not aware of Butler’s published works. “I love the puzzles that we solve when we first come into class because not only does it make us think, the outcome of them is very interesting.”

Principal Allen Whitten said Butler will be a great addition to the school.

“He’s an experienced English teacher that we know will add a lot to the department and will be a great Lancer,” Whitten said.

As chairman of the English Department, Scott Rosenkranz said Butler’s experiences in various educational settings will benefit him here. 

“Mr. Butler has skills in teaching English, leading student groups and contributing to a strong culture of learning in schools,” Rosenkranz said. “Having worked at a smaller school in the past, Mr. Butler has a perspective on how to meet individual student needs that we might benefit from at a large school like Sunny Hills.”

Outside of the classroom, Butler enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons as well as playing the guitar, even talking to his students after class about music and their favorite performers.

“My goal, my success, is measured by the success of my students,” he said. “I want [my students] to head on to the 11th grade feeling confident and prepared to tackle their next challenge.”

Though Butler will be teaching stories from classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, he said his many favorite writers for different genres and time periods. 

“Douglas Adams will always hold a place on my bookshelf,” he said.

And so will the Butler do it – share any samples of his published works with his students at any point in the school year and offer any advice to any budding novelists?

“I will be advising the Writer’s Alliance Club this year, and if they request I’d be happy to share some of my work; however, when I am on campus I am here as a teacher, and my own writing is not my focus, [and] I am here to help guide, encourage and support our students,” he said. “As for budding novelists or anyone interested in any aspect of creative writing, the two constants that will help your writing improve are to write consistently — daily, if possible — and to always be reading.”