Being in high school is a different experience for everyone, but it was especially different for the approximately 30 current seniors who were involved in West Valley High School’s honors classes since sophomore year, thanks to the help of a very special English teacher, Mark Burns.
Honors students in West Valley are together through endless classes that start around fifth grade. No other teacher created a connection with our class of 2020 like Mr. Burns. He not only gave us immense knowledge about English itself, but gave us life advice and experiences that we will never forget.
Our group’s last class with him was in mid-January at the end of the first semester. Throughout three years, we had Mr. Burns for two semesters of sophomore honors English, two semesters of advanced placement English, and one semester of the college in the high school English program. Our honors group took every honors classes he teaches.
Since we were one of the last classes to have been through West Valley’s freshman campus, high school seemed to truly start sophomore year for us when we entered the new building. We were welcomed into Burns’ class with a beginning that was unique: His rendition of “The Tree Song” (his title for the John Gorka song called “Branching Out”). Burns introduced us to his musical talent, and let us know he was in a band that’s known as The Test Tube Poets. Everyone was overjoyed by our new teacher, and we all stood repeating the lyric “I’m gonna reach for the sky” as Burns sang and played his guitar delightfully. “The Tree Song” has been essential to our class over the past three years.
Along with the singing and guitar playing, our class saw Burns bring his passion through his clear love for poetry. Encouraging our creative sides, Burns taught us the beauty behind poetry in all forms. From studying famous poets from Emily Dickinson to John Keats, we read poems from all eras and learned how to appreciate them. In addition to reading, we wrote many poems with Burns, as well. Some of us went on to share our works at the Open Mic Nights that Mr. Burns’ student club, Dead Poets Society, holds at West Valley High School. From odes to haiku, we all learned the intricacy behind writing poetry.
It is undeniable that one of the greatest parts of Burns’ class was the life advice that he incorporated into our lessons. After teaching 32 years and experiencing many different parts of life, like growing up on the East Coast and living in California, Burns told us stories that always ended with some sort of life lesson. With each story, we learned more and more about him, letting us grow and connect with him on another level.
His impact on our class is explained this way by fellow classmate Sahara Segura: “We spent so many years with him, we actually got to know him as another human being. We were able to learn so many valuable life lessons like cherishing each special moment and what not to do or say on a first date. We learned some essential things about life from him.”
On our last day together when our class concluded in January, we wore our class shirts that were made junior year with all of our names on the back, and took class photos. We enjoyed “The Tree Song” and each other’s company one last time, after sharing our aspirations and plans for life.
Mr. Burns is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever and will ever have. His knowledge and passion for teaching was essential to the high school experience of our honors class group and will stay with us forever.