Christopher Burke

Chris Burke

Christopher Burke, an 11-year teaching veteran who uses real-world examples to make his mathematics lessons come alive, is the Iowa Department of Education’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today at Dubuque’s Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School.

“Chris Burke exemplifies the great teaching that is taking place in Iowa schools,” said Gov. Reynolds. “His passion for inspiring students to learn math in a real-world context and his enthusiasm for serving as a coach outside the school day underscore the extraordinary commitment of educators in communities across our state.”

Burke, 35, who is also a teacher leader at the middle school, is one of many educators in his family, including his wife, mother and sister. His wife, Betsy, also teaches at Roosevelt.

In the program’s 60-year history, this is the first time a Dubuque teacher has received the Teacher of the Year award.

“The Teacher of the Year award honors outstanding teachers who have made an indelible impact on their students and colleagues,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said. “The leadership of teachers like Chris Burke will help Iowa’s education system grow and improve.”

Burke says he educates students to discover for themselves the concepts behind math.

“Too often math is presented as clean, neat and tidy,” he said. “How often do numbers in the world around us present themselves as clean, neat and tidy? The beauty of this unit is that students collect data that is far from perfect. Scatter plots and best-fit lines force my students to look for patterns and trends, to question the data, to have a plan and execute it precisely, and to have a logical response when the math is not quite so clean.”

The hands-on, real-life classroom experience enables students to have a deeper understanding of how mathematics work in the world.

“I strive to cultivate a love of learning for each of my students and create an experience that allows them to connect the surrounding community into their learning in a meaningful manner,” Burke said.

The school’s climate is also an important component to a student’s education.

“Much of our students’ waking hours are spent in the care of their respective schools that must ensure there is climate, culture and a system that allows for all students to feel safe to learn and be themselves,” he said.

Burke and his wife live in Dubuque with their one-year-old son, Max.

The finalists for the 2019 Teacher of the Year are:

  • Leigh Ann Erickson, director of student support and an English literature and social justice teacher at Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon Community School District
  • Kristine Howes-Vonstein, a science teacher at Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School, Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District
  • Shelly Nash, a physics teacher at Sioux City West High School, Sioux City Community School District

The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Honorees serve as ambassadors to education and act as liaisons to schools, higher education, and organizations across the state.