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October 22, 2002

Burke still pleased with career decision

From: Parsons Sun, KS
Oct. 22, 2002

By Colleen Surridge

Parsons Sun

The signs still point to the fact that Debbie Burke made a wonderful career choice.

After more than 21 years as a deaf education teacher in Parsons USD 503, Burke says she feels the same excitement about her job that she did the day she started.

"I just love it. The hardest part is the paperwork. In special education there is a lot of it. But every day my work is like a surprise party - never a dull moment.

"I am never frumpy about getting up in the morning to go to work."

Though many of her students are behind in their learning when they enter school from not having hearing to reinforce incidental learning processes, Burke is patient and happy to fill in the gaps.

The area of deaf education was not Burke's initial career choice, though.

"I went to the University of Virginia and got a bachelor's degree in educable mentally retarded and was certified at the educable level and severe level.

"I wanted to get a master's and they said you should get your graduate degree in something else," she said.

The university offered a program in deaf education and she figured the field was fairly well open.

"I thought, I bet a lot of people don't do that,' and I wanted an area of education that was different or unique. I thought it would be easier to get a job with that added to my education.

"The University of Virginia offered deaf education, but their program there was small. I was from Illinois and they have huge deaf education program at the University of Illinois, but they only took so many a year - seven. I got in, though, and went through a full two years. I also had to go through 18 weeks of student education again. I spent nine weeks at a high school and nine weeks in Chicago teaching 8- and 10-year-olds. They had a huge program."

The 18 weeks teaching deaf education was all it took for her to switch careers. She sent out job applications, including one to the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center at Greenbush.

"Dave DeMoss, who is still the director there, called me up and talked to me for an hour. Then he flew to Chicago and interviewed me. I was impressed, and I came to Kansas. When I flew into Joplin, it was the smallest airport I'd ever seen, and then I saw all these corn fields and cows in the fields. Talk about culture shock.

"Greenbush was really little then, but the people were the friendliest I had ever met. I'm really glad to be employed by them. They really know how to treat their employees. If there is any way they can provide for you what you need, they will.

"Anyway, the program (at Parsons USD 503) started in 1980. There was a lady here for the year before me. I got here in August 1981."

Burke does not teach her students American Sign Language, but signed English.

"American Sign Language leaves out a lot of words and does not translate well to English. It doesn't use entire sentences and changes the structure around. It does not translate well to them reading newspapers and magazines. In signed English we sign or finger-spell every word we say in English form and we use all the tenses, past present and future, so we have to teach them time concepts," Burke said.

"If these kids grow up learning English, when they go to the job market they can communicate better. They can read well and write well."

Every day, she said, is rewarding.

"If I had a million dollars, I'd still go to work," she said. "I could always go back and become a free lance interpreter. There's a lot of money in that, but I have no interest in the adult stuff, though. I just really like the kids - and with the little ones you just get hugged all the time."

© Parsons Sun