Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Amazing Quintin Burks

A well known name at Nashoba is Mr. Burks. Whether it be a freshman taking the ‘best English class ever’ or a senior learning the true value of Shakespeare, or a gamer, or a nerd, Burks is a common name for everyone. Especially when he dressed as the great Bob Ross for Halloween, with Mrs. Foley-Procko as his easel. Quintin Burks is one of the greatest people to roam the halls of Nashoba.

"A nerdy, fun-loving English teacher with master hair follicles capable of growing a beard fit for a king." Says Emily Adams. Sadly, Burks no longer has the volumptuous beard that worked very well with his Bob Ross costume, but the man, the myth, the legend is not only as amazing as his facial hair. He is responsible for the Shakespeare class, and the nerd epidemic.

The Gaming Club began during Burks’s first year at Nashoba. He started it mostly to see the student interest in playing tabletop card games, starting with Magic The Gathering and later adding Dungeons and Dragons. “I knew it would reach a demographic that wasn’t really represented in the school’s clubs or after school activities.” Says Burks. The Gaming club has since expanded to also involve video games as “People would come and while they were waiting for a Magic match or whatever they would play on their DS’s so I thought why not make it into a video game club... but then a new problem arose, which was, there were way more people. We went from about twenty five kids in the first year to about fifty eight last year, plus kids who came back from college.”

The club brought a lot of people, myself included, to join the tabletop game fad, and introduced people to others who were also getting into or had experience in Magic, it’s created lasting friendships, and even inspired a prom proposal. The following year, once word got out about the video game aspect, the tabletop element started to dwindle, and the amount of people playing Super Smash Bros and other video games increased dramatically. Burks came up with a plan for this year. “I split that club into two meetings where on Tuesdays we would play tabletop games and on Wednesdays we would play video games, which has been successful- definitely not as much interest in the tabletop as the first year, but I think that has a lot more to do with just the kids, a lot of seniors and juniors played Magic that first year.” “I’m thinking about how to leverage those things for next year, and I think what I need to do a better job of is making them learn how to play it (Magic) and not offering the distraction of the video games until later.”

The Gaming Club aside, Burks thoroughly enjoys working here, “My favorite part about Nashoba is the kids. It’s my favorite part about teaching.” “Nashoba’s got a really, really nice group of kids that go here, almost ridiculously, it’s a very kind group of kids who are very respectful, great sense of humor, and I think the best exemplar of this is probably the Best Buddies- (which is) one of the best things I’ve ever seen, it really just represents the Nashoba community as a whole and I think that’s really my favorite part about the school.”

Academically, he did nothing but gush about Shakespeare- but who wouldn’t. Shakespeare is one of the most amazing playwrights to walk the earth, and luckily, Burks specialises in teaching his work. “I teach Shakespeare, to my seniors and my freshmen, according to what’s called the Folger approach, so it’s a system of teaching developed by the Folger Shakespeare Institute in Washington D.C, which is very heavily interested in teaching how to teach Shakespeare.” To which he attended for four weeks with a handful of other teachers to really take on the experience of teaching

The Folger Shakespeare library has most of the original quartos, which are small books of Shakespeare’s work, some of which include very inaccurate retellings, as mentioned by Burks, “the first quarto of Hamlet is notoriously bad, if you look at the first ‘To Be or Not To Be’ speech it’s butchered.” But many of the quartos were ones that Shakespeare wanted to have been published and because of this, are extremely accurate. “I lived at American University, I went to The Folger everyday, and I worked there for around twelve hours a day, learning how to teach Shakespeare, studying the plays closely with some of the best scholars in the country, including Michael Whitmore who’s the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library.”

“Shakespeare is active, it’s not a book it’s a performance.” Burks explains, and so he teaches it as such. In class he has the students read between the lines, to fully understand the piece- and to understand the language of Shakespeare. “If I see someone with the ‘No Fear Shakespeare’ with the translation on the side, I will throw it in the trash... there’s no point in Shakespeare if you aren’t going to access the language.” The biggest part of Shakespeare is the language because as much as the plot is very digressive and much like common works in his time, it’s the Shakespearian language that makes the plays what they are today. Burks actually has the students think about what they would do if they were in the play instead of just reading it.

Before he officially started teaching, he student taught at Narragansett, and before that, he was a curriculum developer for a medical school-which was his first ‘real’ job. Before working at Nashoba he worked at Florence Sawyer as a math teacher in a “weird turn of events” in his words. “I never wanted to be a math teacher, I never wanted anything to do with math and that is still true today. Although I think, in a lot of ways, it’s a lot less difficult to teach than English.” Unpopular opinion, but it seems to prove true. You can memorize the first couple digits of Pi, and there is a song to remember the quadratic formula, but it takes a long time to read and analyse a book. “English is art. And teaching art is difficult because, what do you teach? When I sit down and think ‘what books do I want to teach?’ it’s a staggering amount of material to choose from. My goals are heavily framed more around the artistic end of things than the logistics end of things, which as a freshmen teacher that’s my main role, to teach how to write a good essay, what does every sentence do, all of that is still heavily framed on the emotional value of humanity in literature.”

“Unless you ask four year old Quintin, who wanted to be a garbage man, I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a freshman in high school.”

His inspiration to become a teacher came from what he calls an embarrassing story, starting with how he had a negative high school experience, he didn’t have many friends because- as, like today, he was a big nerd. “I was a big nerd- I am a big nerd... I also was a big fan of pretty girls. So I thought, if I teach these pretty girls and get them to get a good grade in class, they’ll like me. Which is stupid, it didn’t work. So, I taught a large number of pretty girls how to do chemistry, and that’s when I realized ‘Hey! I’m actually kinda good at this.’” So he pursued an internship in his senior year for teaching, and although he didn’t have an outstanding high school experience, neither socially and academically, he treats teaching not as a job but as something he loves. Even though when he worked for the medical schools, he got to go to the Caribbean to work for the schools there, and basically got mini vacations, he was still stuck behind a desk not really enjoying it the way he enjoys teaching. He loves to help people, because at the end of the day, he has impacted someone’s life in a positive way which makes his job that much more important not only to him but to whom he impacted.

That is the best part about Mr. Burks, he is so passionate about everything he does, he convinced a Shakespeare hater to tolerate Macbeth within a few minutes, he taught a bunch of freshmen, myself included, how to play and really understand a card game that I didn’t know existed until I met him, through that I made friends who have long since graduated but I still see and talk to constantly, a promposal went through his club, and his students leave the class wishing they could have him as a teacher for every year of English.

An article Mr. Burks wrote for The Folger

Mr. Burks's google site

Mr. Burks's youtube channel (where student projects live)

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