Burlingame High School senior English teacher Jim Burke added to his collection of books this September by publishing a new textbook, titled “Uncharted Territory.” He has written over 25 books in the last 20 years. According to W.W. Norton & Company, which published the book, “Uncharted Territory” is designed to “engage students in discussions and activities about education, credo, power, relationships, identity, freedom, decisions, and success.” It is meant to serve as a core or supplemental text for high school English teachers.
“I think [my students] want readings that relate to the questions they are asking themselves as seniors and are preparing for whatever is next for them,” Burke said. “It is ultimately for my students and my own classes.”
Burke has been teaching at BHS since 1992 and has received numerous awards for both his teaching and his writing. He wrote the foreword for “They Say / I Say,” a guidebook for high school academic writing, as well as several texts on the art of teaching. He uses some of his books to guide his curriculum and help develop personal relationships with his students.
“It seems like he’s one of the driving forces in the English department, and I respect him for that,” senior Gabe Kim said. “He’s one of the more engaged teachers I’ve seen. He really wants to connect with his students on more of a personal level.”
Burke has been balancing teaching and writing for many years. For “Uncharted Territory,” he chose the readings included in each chapter, the order and the themes, and created the questions to accompany each reading. This textbook is especially meaningful to Burke because it is meant for students rather than teachers.
“My teaching is first. Without it, I wouldn’t have anything to write about,” Burke said. “I always try to learn new things and do others better. When I find something that works well, I share it in articles, blogs, books, and workshops.”
Although he is well-known in the teaching world, Burke does not get nearly the same attention from students that he gets from fellow teachers. Most BHS students, in fact, do not even know about all he has accomplished.
“He’s kind of a rock star in the English world, so the fact that he’s stayed humble and true to his work is really commendable,” English teacher Bethany Lukach said. “It’s hard to publish [so many] books and not let that go to your head, and he hasn’t.”
Burke has also helped newer English teachers feel settled in and comfortable working at BHS.
“Mr. Burke is the kind of person that always acknowledges you when you see him in the hallway, so he makes you feel included in the group,” Lukach said. “I feel like he means to handle the work from a place of integrity.”
Several of these books have become a staple of Burke’s curriculum, and some of the other English teachers have used them as well. When students know that their teacher had a direct influence on what they are studying, it gives the teacher more credibility and students are able to trust the teacher and get more out of the class. “Uncharted Territory” is merely a continuation of all the work that Burke has done for both the school and the English and teaching communities.
“I feel like it’s really easy to make a connection with him,” senior Emily Williams said. “He’s super helpful with our projects, and if we tell him what we’re interested in, he really tries to adapt everyone’s work to what they care about and who they are.”
Because he has been teaching at Burlingame for so long, Burke has adapted his own teaching style over the years and changed his curriculum to go along with technological advances and lessons he has learned.
“I am not sure what to say about how my own teaching has changed,” Burke said, “but I think what has remained the same is my own hunger to learn, to read, to improve, to work with and get to know and help all the kids I teach.”