Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Tribute to Mr. Burr

Post by Sheila Conrad: Sheila is a graduate of Bettendorf High School and is currently in her 6th year of teaching French. You can follow her on Twitter @madameconrad

To Mr. Pat Burr, In Memoriam

I have been teaching French at Bettendorf High School for six years now. An alumna of BHS, I have the pleasure of teaching alongside teachers who inspired me when I was young. It is only now that I have come to fully realize just how much they, and the high school experience in general, have shaped who I am today.

Today I want to talk about one teacher in particular: Mr. Pat Burr. I only had him for one course in high school: AP (Advanced Placement) European History. He also taught Latin and Philosophy. Over this past Thanksgiving Break, I went out for drinks with some old classmates from the class of 2003. One of them brought up Mr. Burr, which set us down memory lane.

I was in a class with mainly boys. There were only two other girls, and they were even quieter than I was. (Yes, I was shy in high school, though few would believe it today.) Mr. Burr always made a point to ask our perspective, in addition to the male perspective, which dominated our class (and, as I’m sure he was aware, continues to dominate the field of history). Looking back at old notes packets he gave to us: on p.33 of one of them I found the words “Romanticism and Women: Realize own potential;” I had circled this. Knowing he would ask my perspective in class, I was careful to develop my own opinions during this time in my life. I thought critically about many things and was given an outlet to express my developing opinions. He helped me realize my own scholarly potential.

Why, you may ask, do I still have notes packets from a high school course? I've asked myself the same question. We have Wikipedia now, right? But I still refuse to part with them. He made history at once so fascinating and so clear that I’m not sure I’ll ever throw them away. In addition to notes he provided for us students, I have four blue notebooks full of notes I took on my own. I was reading through AP European History Blue Notebook #4 this evening and came across notes I had taken about authors and filmmakers I wouldn't be exposed to until my college years. It’s funny seeing the words “Milan Kundera” and “Jean-Luc Godard” written in my careful high-school cursive, when these are names that mean so much more to me today.

Other memories:

  • He always wore polo shirts with black pants, and on exam days, he wore a black polo and a bemusedly menacing expression on his face. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” (Dante Alighieri), he would say of his classroom on these days. 
  • He used a deck of cards to assign us seats. 
  • At times, he would play classical music on his record player while we would walk around the room in reflective contemplation, before more lecture or class discussion. An old classmate reminded me that these were called “mindwalks.”
  • He read us funny news stories in class, including the Darwin Awards.
  • He hated cats.
  • “Giovanni Aurispa!” “238!” “Come the Revolution, things will change!”
  • He was animated. All of my classmates remember his funny facial expressions, his mannerisms, his voice, and his laugh.
  • He would take and vehemently defend an opposing position as devil’s advocate in order for us to truly get at the principles behind our own logic
  • When I read that Mr. Burr passed away in a College for Kids classroom (which is where I now spend every summer) on July 2, 2010, I was hit with emotion. More than once while writing this, I have choked up with tears. I never got a chance to properly thank him for how much he impacted me. Mr. Burr loved his students. I will never forget him.

Photo caption: My classroom card used to assign seats atop a 5-page in-class essay test on the French Revolution I wrote for Mr. Burr’s AP European History course in 2000

1 comment:

  1. I'll never forget Mr. Burr. Thanks for the great post, Sheila. Rodger