Mr. Burns: The Real Story

Wathen, Amy

"I must have been teaching Dante...or making fun of Mr. Beitler. His room number was 666 in the old building" said Mr. Burns of the photo.

Cara Poythress '15, Feature Editor

Notoriously Difficult Grader. Washington Capital Enthusiast. James Joyce Lover. He’s the man who can completely captivate 25 students in 90 minutes with a soft spoken lecture and eye-opening discussion. Everyone knows Mr. Burns. We all know the basic things about him, but what about the things that don’t come up during a critique of the Canterbury Tales? “Free Time?” he laughed and shrugged, “If I have some? I clean a lot to channel anxiety, get outside. I watch every single Capitals game. I love to experiment in the kitchen, play trivia at the pub, and see live music. But only if I’m relaxed enough, do I like to read.”

“Well, I grew up moving through eight or nine  places and then settled when I was in middle school. Now I have two kids, a son in his freshman year of high school and my daughter is in sixth grade.” Laughing, he added that he also has a hypoallergenic cat that he had to pick up from the airport in a hilariously sketchy trade off involving cash and the cat in a bag.

Even a personality on social media, Mr. Burns continues to challenge students with his whit on twitter (@MrBurnsWHS). “They are a manifestation of repression. I don’t think I care if anyone looks at them. I’ve even thought about manifesting every idea I’ve ever tweeted and binding it into a book. I’ve already named it. ‘Pearls of Twit.’ I have fun with Twitter. I like the challenge.” said Mr. Burns about using word games in the small confinement of 140 characters.

Everyone is curious about what their teachers were like when they were teenagers. Mr. Burns explained that he was (surprisingly) not an outstanding student; “I definitely enjoyed high school. But my ninth grade year was a disaster, I was a complete tool. I didn’t want to do terribly, but if I didn’t do well I wasn’t necessarily bothered.”

Looking out the window, Mr. Burns recalled the one time he was suspended. In his high school, there was a grass island that would be the in the parking lot if it was in Wakefield. “I was a senior and I had to finish ‘The Sound and the Fury’ for my AP English class; it was nice outside, so I went out and sat underneath a tree and started reading with headphones in.” Eventually, security guards surfaced and explained to him that he had skipped class and he would be punished. He was quick to point out to administration that ultimately, “I was being suspended for reading,” and luckily, the absurdity of this issue ended up with him not having to serve it.

“I had fun within the borders of having fun.” He recalled how he and his friends would steal garbage bags of golf balls from the driving range near Barcroft and do “tons of damage” to things in their wake. Overall, he is happy with his high school experience. “I made friends, then, that I’m still close with now.”

When asked what advice he would give to students, he firmly exclaimed, “DO SOMETHING! I want students to value their time. Showing your talent is a good thing! If I could put it onto a T-shirt, that’s what it would say. Be defined by what you do, not what you didn’t.” He urges students to “make connections to things you enjoy, so you can look back and reflect happily. No one remembers assignments, you remember the connections you made.

Mr. Burns never expected to become a teacher, and as a student, he wasn’t one to stress over school. “Until late into my sophomore year in college, I didn’t click as a student. Not at all, did I think I was going to become a teacher. I was full of garbage. I entered into school as a Pre-Med. That only lasted a semester. The first time I was in grad school, it was for an Comparative Literature Program. But I needed more. Something more constructive. I needed to just do something!”

Soon after being hit by that realization, he began his student teaching at Randolph Elementary School and then the next year he found himself at Wakefield. He had been coaching swim for three years and he figured he’d look into full year coaching. “Next spring, I was hired hourly at Wakefield as a writing coach. I was offered the job as a swim coach for 1993-1994, then through that, I worked my way into the job I have now.” He loves Wakefield for the people he is around. “I’ve thought I was going to leave Wakefield twice, but I’ve stayed because of my colleagues. These are my good friends.

Other than Virginia, if Mr. Burns could be anywhere, he would choose his home in Michigan, he said as he motioned to the painting of a Northern shoreline fading into crisp icy waters. “If it didn’t snow, I’d be at my house in Northern Michigan. I love it there, it’s so important to have a place you love, that you can look forward to.”