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School mourns popular teacher

Combining popular tunes with a small portable guitar and a television monitor, the game Guitar Hero builds on the concept of a battle of the bands, but takes it in a whole new direction. Educators have found that it can be used as a tool in encouraging kids to join in other classroom activities.

Susan Burke understood how that worked, and she understood how to teach social studies in a way that opened eyes and opened worlds. That enthusiasm was known to a generation of students she taught during 16 years in Niskayuna schools and may explain why she was the first teacher to serve as a pilot fellow for Region to Region, the earliest version of an international teacher exchange program now known as Civics Mosaic.

Her leadership was also exhibited during years coaching the girls varsity volleyball team, softball and track. And when it became necessary two years ago for her to switch from teaching grade six to grade eight, she did so seamlessly.

When Burke died suddenly on Friday, Jan. 11, after spending a full day teaching at Van Antwerp Middle School, many were stunned by the turn of events.

"There wasn't any indication that something like this was going to happen. She was in the classroom on Friday and on Monday there was a new teacher in place," said Joe Landry, the father of one of Burke's students and Niskayuna town supervisor.

"She had been working with a student teacher and that's who has stepped in, so there's some continuity, but it was still a big surprise," Landry said. "Of course my sympathies go out to everyone, especially her children. From everything I know, and my son has been in her class all this year, she was a wonderful teacher. I also have a daughter she taught a few years ago. She will be sorely missed."

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