Instead of the predictable (and sometimes necessary) author biography, I thought I would offer a few different views in an attempt to capture some other aspects of myself than those you will find in the author bio near the end of this page:
What I remember most about grades K-9 is moving. Not as much as some, but more than most. My parents bought houses in Sacramento, fixed them up, sold them, and moved to the next. This turns out to have been a powerful education: I learned to adapt and to make new friends. Through third grade (Oh, Mrs. Easter, my third grade teacher, whose class was my favorite, for whom I would have laid down my young life, for whom I saved that fish (see photo) all week to impress her at Show and Tell), I attended Collis P. Huntington Elementary School and lived on a street as diverse as one could ever find and by any measure you would wish to choose: age, ethnicity, educational background, experience, religion. Then moving through Alice Birney Elementary and another neighborhood for a couple years, till we arrived on Keane Dr., where I attended Del Dayo Elementary on the other side of town, where I was as much a Huck Finn as one could be and still live in the suburbs: American River, snakes, lizards, motorcycles, BMX bikes, baseball; until suddenly, at twelve, I discovered tennis. At which point, everything changed. I spent hours practicing, hitting against that wall at the high school, trying to master the game, studying it, reading about it, hitting the ball against the side of the house, the garage door—whatever was at hand. And so from middle through high school, I devoted myself to learning to play tennis but little else: I fumbled and failed my way through school, glimpsing only stray moments of the student I would become years later, when I finally went to college. I remember only three books I read from my entire adolescence: Bless the Beasts and the Children, Serpico, and The Godfather, the last two obviously not school books. But something happened in Ken Kitchener's English class that freshman year that would plant a seed: we had speakers each week (in that class that had no desks, only couches and bean bag chairs, black light posters and clip boards, wall to wall carpeting which those who came late had to vacuum as a punishment) and could, for extra credit, go into a back room and type letters to these speakers. Something about going into that room to type, to write. As high school neared its end, my adolescence having been spent attaining a success on the court that never occurred to me I should seek in the class (I would hit 500 backhands down the line on a machine to master a particular shot but never realize the same sort of practice and persistence would prevent me from repeating Algebra times), I had no plan and, up until the last days before graduation, no reasonable expectation of graduating since I was failing...English, a class taught by none other than Ken Kitchener (it was the early 70s and he insisted we call him by his first name).
And so, after barely graduating, having assured my mother that notice that came in the mail saying I would not graduate was all cleared up, all taken care of, I took a job in a printing factory and entered community college. And then everything changed. Perhaps it was working in the printing factory around a collating table with about fifteen women who lived to smoke, drink Coke, and talk about General Hospital. Whatever it was, I woke up and gave my life over to learning, to school. Sure, I had to endure the remedial writing course I was put into; and of course I had to learn to use the highlighter (after initially highlighting whole chapters), to take notes (after trying to write down every word the professor said), to take tests, and to write essays (after getting back a paper on Hamlet with a giant F on it, accompanied by his only comment, in equally large, red writing: "So what?" But pushing through all these fumbles and failures, getting help, learning to learn, learning I could learn. And so to Santa Barbara City College after a summer spent parking cars at the state fair in 110 degree heat after working with kids at a summer camp all summer. Realizing while at SBCC that it was the kid business I wanted to be in, not business. And so to UC Santa Barbara to study psychology with an emphasis on learning and cognition, where by senior year I had an internship at the Devereux School where I worked with kids with developmental disabilities of all sorts. But even then, my writing and literary interests were awakening: I typically came to the seminar class on our internship with books by Joyce and others instead of the books of the course. Thus somewhere around this time I took more responsibility for my own education, until I eventually graduated. And then the Peace Corps in Tunisia, where I learned Arabic and had long hours every day to read and write before returning the next day to the school where I was supposed to teach woodshop but had no wood with which to do so. Days on days, sitting on my verandah looking out over the Mediterranean, reading all the American authors, whose books I could bring from the American Cultural Center in Tunis. Until, by the time I returned to the United States, having created a school in a mosque in my second year during which time I moved to Menzel Temime, a beautiful small town also on the Mediterranean, I realized what I really wanted to do was teach English. And so to San Francisco State to get a degree in English (to make up for that degree in Psychology, which has proven to be invaluable over time with its emphasis on learning), along the way enrolling in the four most influential classes of my entire education: Bill Robinson's program in the teaching of writing. The four best taught courses I ever had, by teachers who devoted themselves to mastering and conveying that mastery of composition to their students. Then, to the teacher education program at SF State, during which I did my student teaching at Lowell High School under the guidance of Pat Hanlon, whose combined interests in technology (during the era of the Mac Plus and Hypercard!) and literature exerted a powerful influence on me, making her, along with the professors in the comp program at SFSU, one of my essential teachers, one of my greatest influences. Until finally, I was out, graduated, and into my own class at Castro Valley High School, where I was assigned in 19
89 to teach those kids not so different from myself in a remedial freshman English class where my students then became my most important teachers, along with colleagues and authors I whose work I soon began to read voraciously, which led to my first efforts to write. One last return to the university to get a graduate degree in Secondary Education at SF State, where Mark
Phillips, then head of the department, became an important mentor through long conversations in his office despite the fact that I was not nor had I ever been in any of his classes. And since the n, my teachers are my students, my colleagues, the authors I read, the world I see, the student I was, the teacher I have become.
Throughout high school, where I worked little and wrote even less, I wrote poetry; this troubled me. After a few years, the tension became too much: I burned all my poems for fear someone would find and read them. (Don't worry: they were awful!) After barely graduating from high school: community college where I was placed in a remedial writing class based on a test I do not remember taking. Then: Mace Perona, who asked that we keep a journal. Which changed everything. I filled three composition notebooks in one semester. Poetry returned, slightly improved once I realized I could—and should—read poetry. Also by this time: I was reading everything, all the time. But academic writing, the more formal sort, came slowly: an F on a ten-page essay on Hamlet with the word "So?" in large red letters covering the front page. Psychology papers returned with notes scrawled on them saying things like, "This is a formal academic paper not a short story!" By graduation, however, I mastered the academic writing genre. First job after college: Working one-on-one full-time with an autistic boy at a private school for a year, during which time I kept extensive journals about what I did, how I did it, and what happened. Next: Two years in the Peace Corps writing Susan in Japan long detailed letters on onion skin paper using the little manual Brother typewriter I lugged to Tunisia. Then my first published article (in the San Francisco Chronicle) while still a student teacher (and newly married to Susan!). Several unpublishable novels. But here and there, an article published about teaching in one journal or another. Some success with poetry: regularly published, even a few awards! A master's thesis that earned special honors. And then Lois, who would become my first editor, saying: Write about what you do in your class. And so I wrote what became the first edition of the book you now hold. And since then? Many more books. Blogs. Tweets. Websites. Wikis. Nings! And text messages: to Susan, whom I have never stopped writing (or loving!) after all these years. (Note: This comes from the next edition of The English Teacher's Companion, which should be available in 2012).
Jim Burke teaches English at Burlingame High School where he has worked for nearly twenty years. He is the author of numerous books, the most recent of which is What's the Big Idea? Question-Driven Units to Motivate Reading, Writing, and Thinking. Other books include 50 Essential Lessons: Tools and Techniques for Teaching English Language Arts (2007), The English Teacher's Companion: A Complete Guide to Curriculum, Classroom, and the Profession (2008), Writing Reminders: Tools, Tips, Techniques, Tools for Thought, Reading Reminders: Tools, Tips, and Techniques (2001), and Writing Reminders: Tools, Tips, and Techniques, all of which are published by Heinemann. He is also the author of The Reader's Handbook (Great Source) and the Teacher's Essential Guide series of books from Scholastic. He is a senior consultant for the McDougal Littell Literature program. He has received numerous awards, including the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award, the NCTE Conference on English Leadership Award, the California Reading Association Hall of Fame Award. He served on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Committee on Adolescence and Young Adulthood English Language Arts Standards, as well as the College Board AP Exam and Course Review Commission. Most recently, he received (two years in a row) the Best Education Social Network Award for his English Companion Ning, a social network of over 24,000 English teachers he created at the end of 2008. He blogs (jimburke.typepad.com), tweets (@englishcomp), and uses Facebook to explore the implications of social networks in public and personal communication.
Visit his website (www.englishcompanion.com) for more information.