It was nearly two decades ago when Becky Worlow asked an obviously frustrated class of Aberdeen fourth graders if anyone understood fractions. One lonely hand went in the air, and the teacher turned the class over to the little boy in hopes he could reach his classmates in a way she couldn’t.
And from then on, Worlow’s class was the highest performing class when it came to fractions.
That day, Micah Burnett – son of Arthur and Shirley Burnett – became a teacher. He’s been teaching ever since.
Now 25, he’s trying his hand at the craft on a larger scale, teaching fourth grade at Aberdeen Middle School, which houses grades four and five.A 2006 graduate of Mississippi University for Women, Burnett finished with a perfect 4.0. Instead of following the exodus of Mississippi-educated teachers to out-of-state ventures, he returned home to teach where his career began at the tender age of 9.
“I always say you never know what the future holds,” said Burnett. “But as of right now, I’m at a great school. We’re working toward Level 5. I work for a great superintendent, Dr. Reed, and Mr. Lee is a great principal. … I may be here until I retire.”
Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because, one, I enjoy helping people, and I wanted to do something where I felt like I was making a difference in the lives of others. And teachers can make a difference – immediately and they can make differences that last a lifetime.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
I’ve always known I was going to be a teacher or a coach or a preacher, or a combination of the three. And right now I help my brother coach volleyball and tennis. I don’t get any compensation for it; it’s not in my description. But I think we’re going to work out something to where I get paid a little for it.
Who is your brother? Where does he coach?
Marquis. He coaches girls’ volleyball and tennis at the high school.
So you’re teaching and doing a little coaching too. What about the preaching?
My dad’s the preacher. I probably will later on. I taught a couple of years a teen class. I’ve spoken to the congregations and filled in sometimes. It’s a humbling experience, and something you have to be totally dedicated to. Me personally, to be a preacher, I’d like to have a to have a woman in my life – not to say she’d be the cause of me preaching. But a lot of times, people tend to think before you can talk about something they like to know you’ve experienced it. Like, how can I tell them about marriage when I have never been married? Preaching is something I’d like to do though. But like I said, it’s something you have to be completely dedicated to.
How many other male teachers are there at Aberdeen Middle?
I’m the only male teacher in the school. Coach Smith is the P.E. teacher and Mr. Abel teaches music, but as far as academic curriculum, I’m the only one.
Does that bother you?
Not really. When I went to the W and went into teaching, I knew it was going to be a challenge. It kind of made me more determined. I wanted to be the best of the best. I wanted to represent my family well and represent the W well, but I really wanted to represent men well – show them we are masters of our craft. A lot of people think with teaching and dealing with children, women are the best at it, and I think I’m starting to make people question that. I like a challenge. I’m a driven person, and what seems impossible are the things I like to take on.
You graduated from the W in 2006, so this is your first year teaching, right? What’s been the biggest challenge?
Yes, it’s my first year. I would say the biggest challenge being a teacher is constantly reaching every child in their own learning style. That’s the biggest challenge. The first time I teach it, maybe four students will catch it. Children learn so many different ways. You have to reach every single child. Some may be more auditory; some may be more tactile. And you have to reach them that way for them to be proficient or advanced. That’s my goal is for every student to be proficient or advanced on grade level.
Why elementary school? Why fourth grade?
For me, elementary school because children want to learn. To me, elementary is the best age group because they’re independent but not yet have what I call, an adult mindset. They still want to please their parents; they want to please their teachers; they want to learn. They soak up so much knowledge. They just want to learn and you can teach them so much, not just about class but about life. You can still reach them.
Is it hard to find a balance between teaching the things covered by state curriculum tests and still developing the children?
I would say it’s a formidable challenge, yes. Is it an overwhelming burdensome challenge? No. To me, those go hand in hand. I tell my students I’m going to make sure they’re prepared for the academic tests. But that’s one side of life. The other side is the behavior side, the moral side; there’s a religious side as well. Of course I can’t get into the religious side, but I try to teach them there’s more to life than academics. I teach my guys to be gentlemen, open doors. My girls, I tell them to act like ladies, not wear the short skirts. I model by example. I wear shirts and ties to work, shirt tucked in. I probably wear ties more than I have to. But you’re a guide; you’re a model, and you teach them through life. A lot of kids don’t get that at home, and you become their role model. You take on that when you become a teacher. As long as I’m teaching, we’re definitely going to teach the strong academics, but we’re going to have the good behavior as well.
Why did you choose to stay in Mississippi?
I wanted to stay in Mississippi, and I wanted to go back to Aberdeen because I wanted to give back to my community. A lot of people leave and don’t come home. You can be a product of your environment, but what do you give back to them? I had excellent teachers at the W and in high school and throughout my education. They are the reason I’ve been successful. So, I wanted to come back and give back to my community. That’s always been a goal of mine. I was proud of the education I received in Aberdeen, and I wanted to come back and show them that I was successful and maybe encourage them to do it too.
You said teachers can make immediate and lifelong difference in people’s lives. What do you hope your students remember about you?
I hope my students remember about me that I was honest, that I was fair, I treated them with respect and that I taught them to be first a better person, then to be a better student. That’s what I hope. I think if you teach a person to be a better person, that’s going to far exceed being a better student. It’s like that old saying – and I tell my kids this – ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’