• How long have you taught English at Burlingame High School?
I started at Burlingame High in 1992––before the Internet!
• How many books have you written?
Including different editions of books like The English Teacher’s Companion: over 25.
• When people ask you what you do, how do you respond: teacher or writer?
I am a teacher ﬁrst. That’s the most important work I do everyday. Absolutely.
• Who is your favorite author?
I cannot give just one: Mike Rose, Seamus Heaney, Laura Hillenbrand, Joan Didion….
• What is your primary objective or responsibility as a teacher?
To help all students learn what they need to know to succeed in their public, private, and professional lives, while doing my best to help them learn to write well and love reading along the way.
• Where did you go to college and what did you study?
After high school, I attended several community colleges before enrolling at UC Santa Barbara where I graduated with a BA in Psychology with an emphasis in Cognitive Development. I received my teaching credential and MA from San Francisco State University, where I had to also take a year’s worth of English classes to be eligible for an English credential.
• What is something you tell your students again and again?
I tell them all the time that their most important task is to ﬁnd a question or a problem they want to spend their entire life trying to answer or solve. The question I spend my days trying to answer is: How can teach a class of 35 kids how to read, write, speak, and think well enough to make a living and a life for themselves? I also tell them there are three things you want to have for a good life: Live where you want to live. Do what you love. Have someone to share it all with at the end of the day.
In honor of my seniors, I will describe myself using the Common App essay prompts in 140 characters or less:
• What story is so central to your identity that your application would be incomplete without it?
I graduated near the bottom of my class in high school and was placed in remedial writing when I enrolled at American River Community College.
• Recount an incident when you experienced failure–how it affected you, what you learned.
The ﬁrst class I taught as a student teacher at San Francisco State was every teacher’s nightmare: As soon as I began to tell the class the day’s topic I forgot everything and my master teacher had to cancel the class.
• Reﬂect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act?
When a previous state writing test was dismissed because of threats of censorship, I began the ﬁrst online community for English teachers to inform and organize them.
• Describe a place where you are perfectly content—what you do there and why it is so meaningful.
In my classroom (A110) with my students, for it is there and with them that I feel most in my element, most content. What could bring more meaning to one’s life than to spend their days helping kids write the story of their lives.
• Discuss an accomplishment that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood.
When I moved on a whim to Santa Barbara to enroll at Santa Barbara City College and began the journey that culminated three years later when I was the ﬁrst person in my family to graduate from college (UCSB).
Those needing some biographical information for more formal purposes (e.g., introducing me at an event) may use the following, editing for content and length according to your needs.
Jim Burke teaches English at Burlingame High School where he has worked since 1992. He is the author of more than 20 books, including The Common Core Companion series (Corwin) and The English Teacher’s Companion. He is currently working with Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein on a high school edition of They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing for W. W. Norton. He has received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Award from CATE, Exemplary Leader Award from the Conference on English Leadership, Best Social Network for Educators as moderator of the English Companion Ning, and the Intellectual Freedom Award from NCTE. He currently serves on various committees at PARCC, the Advanced Placement program, and the College Board 6-12 English Language Arts Advisory Committee. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, three children, dog and two tortoises.
Those wishing to learn more about the work I have done may read my curriculum vitae.