Cliff Burch Returns to HMS
Former English teacher Cliff Burch disagrees with author Thomas Wolfe’s assertion that “you can’t go home again.”
“Oh yes you can,” Burch said Thursday while sitting in his new principal’s office at Stone Elementary School – one he has decorated with the black and gold Eagle trappings of a 26-year career with Hobbs Municipal Schools.
But many, including Burch himself, thought that HMS career came to an end in 2010 when the 53-year-old announced his retirement from the district and the superintendent’s job which he had held for five years.
“At the time, I thought, ‘I’m young enough; I’d like to see what else is out there,’” Burch said of his decision to step away from the district’s top job. His experimentation with the private sector was brief, however, as Burch - who is married to a HMS teacher and has two daughters who are teachers – soon returned to the field. “I discovered I have a calling – regardless of whether it’s in teaching, administration or anything related to education,” he said. “I wanted to be back in the schools. I knew I was going to work. There was no way I could not work.”
Which is why, when the new school year began last August, Burch found himself driving 28 miles every day to his job as a Seminole High School English teacher. Is it any surprise that Burch – known more for his mild-mannered demeanor than a sizeable ego - never considered the teaching job a step down the career ladder? Or that he failed to share his credentials with co-workers who, in many instances, weren’t born when Burch first went to work as a teacher 31 years before.
“I didn’t mention my previous job,” Burch said of new teacher orientation sessions and other trainings. “I hoped that they saw me as somebody just like them – someone who wanted to make an impact on kids.” To maximize the impact, Burch even trained for and obtained a special education teaching endorsement.
He also became reacquainted with the joys – as well as the drawbacks - of daily classroom instruction. Funny how he’d forgotten about the amount of time it takes to prepare for each class, the out-of-pocket expense for making his classroom a welcoming environment, the occasional discipline issues that crop up or the weekends spent grading homework.
But one thing he didn’t forget was the feeling of revitalization that comes from standing in front of a group of students every day. “Seeing their successes and working with them through their failures - that’s something that never changes,” Burch said. “It’s just an incredible feeling working with kids.”
Flash forward a school year. Burch had every intention of returning to his teaching post at Seminole High School later this month. When Stone principal Dawni Nelson retired in June, however, Burch, a former principal at Jefferson Elementary School, was intrigued. “I started kind of thinking, ‘Wow, should I apply for the job? It would be a great fit.’”
HMS Superintendent TJ Parks agreed. “Cliff Burch is a great educator. We are honored to have him return,” Parks said. “Not only will his experience benefit the entire district, it’s just great to have him rejoin the family.”
Nelson has similar sentiments. She was torn about walking away from a 28-year career in education, but the fact that Burch is now her successor has made the transition easier. “My students and my staff are like my family,” Nelson said yesterday. “I prayed for the right person to take care of them. Cliff was like an answer to those prayers. Things work out sometimes.”
On the new job for a week now, Burch said he’ll be a better principal as the result of his teaching experiences over the past year. “Going back into the classroom was one of the greatest things I could have done,” he said. “I have so much respect for what teachers do on a daily basis.”
The feeling is mutual.
When he was introduced to fellow principals during a work session earlier this week at the administration building he once called home, the response was hearty and lengthy applause. The reception has been similar among Stone teachers, some of whom include former students from his days as principal at Hobbs High School.
“I couldn’t have drawn a picture and made things turn out any better,” Burch said. “My experience in Seminole was very positive. But it’s great to be back in Hobbs. It makes you feel so good about yourself when people also seem pleased that you are back. It’s just like being home again.”