Type “Boericke” into the Stuybash.org search query and quote after quote fills the page. From killing an alligator to having practiced martial arts for 20 years to jumping out of a plane—as one student remarked, “Mr. Boericke, you’ve done like everything!” His fame within the school is apparent not only on Stuybash, but also on various Facebook pages. During elective season, seasoned Boericke students recruit prospective ones, encouraging them with statements such as “Mr. Boericke’s an amazing teacher.” Social studies teacher William Boericke teaches Economics and the elective Modern China, and has garnered a huge fan base through his 11 years of teaching.
Teaching is not an easy job, especially teaching in a captivating manner, and even moreso, teaching at Stuyvesant High School, a school where students are prone to dozing off in class because of sleep deprivation. For Boericke, being a teacher is about more than giving lectures. He sees more to teaching than delivering the information that will get students good grades on tests. “I’m more of a truth-seeker. I want to get to the bottom of what is really going on,” he said. It may be his attitude that allows him to inspire his students. Boericke teaches through current events and examples that his students can connect to. “I try to have my students understand that this stuff is real, and it makes a difference in our lives,” he said.
Boericke’s success with his students sparked the senior class of 2012 to honor him by voting for him to serve as the faculty speaker at this year’s graduation. “I’d like to think that I was selected because I tend to think of my students as people. I don’t keep a formal student-teacher relationship in my class. I want my class to be entertaining and amusing, but at the same time, not to be formal and professional. My goal is to have students relate to what’s going on, and if I was selected, then I guess I have succeeded,” he said.
He is right. According to sophomore Jenny Phung, who takes the Modern China elective, Boericke creates a comfortable class atmosphere. Modern China is a relatively new class offered to all sophomores, juniors, and seniors, which takes a new perspective on China today, investigating its rise as a political and economic power. “He’s a really laidback teacher, and there isn’t a lot of homework. I really like his teaching methods, because he shows us a lot of videos that relate to the subject matter. There aren’t any textbooks with loads of information to make us feel pressured, and Modern China is a very conversational class,” she said.
In addition to his active participation as a social studies teacher, Boericke is also involved with chess, one of his passions since his youth. He is currently the faculty advisor for the chess club at Stuyvesant. “Chess is like a life and death struggle. Every game is a battle and a test of skill, nerve, and how well you studied and learned the game. When you win, the game rewards you,” Boericke said. Martial arts, particularly tai chi, also continue to be a huge part of his life. Boericke can occasionally be seen practicing tai chi with students on the third floor atrium.
Before becoming a successful social studies teacher, Boericke pursued several careers, starting as a professional tennis instructor. “My parents wanted me to take tennis lessons since I was sixteen, and when I was seventeen, the professional tennis player who ran the place asked me to work for him, and I started with collecting tennis balls, and giving beginner lessons,” he said. As time passed, his skills increased and his position there was promoted. When he was twenty-two, Boericke became a professional instructor, establishing a name for himself as a tennis player in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was living at the time.
After meeting a girl, Boericke decided to quit his job, pack up his things, and follow her to the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I couldn’t break into Cincinnati with tennis, so I got a job rolling burritos in a Mexican restaurant,” he said. In two months, he was promoted to restaurant manager. “From becoming a restaurant manager, I’ve learned a lot of managerial skills and people skills,” Boericke said.
Enlisting in the army was what Boericke considered to be a huge milestone for his life. Training in the army helped him develop his character and helped focus his life, allowing him to appreciate his experiences there. “If I could go back in time, I would still choose to go into the army,” he said. After spending some time in Cincinnati, his girlfriend broke up with him because his life wasn’t focused, and Boericke didn’t want to stay in the city. Boericke believed that being in the military would allow him to utilize the skills he had acquired from his two life passions: chess and martial arts. “When I got out of the army, I was very disciplined and much more ambitious. I decided to leave because I didn’t like to be on the bottom rung, and I wasn’t born to be on the bottom rung,” Boericke said.
With this newfound ambition, Boericke attempted college again, after flunking the first time. This time, he graduated with the highest honors and went on to become a Wall Street lawyer. He enjoyed law profusely, and even today, practices a little law in addition to teaching, working as the chief legal advisor of a non-for-profit organization. For personal reasons, Boericke swapped careers again and became a teacher, starting at Monroe Academy in the Bronx, where there was only a 13 percent graduation rate. In fact, during his time teaching at Stuyvesant, Monroe Academy was closed because of its failure. However, Boericke mentioned that teaching there changed him. “When I went into the army, I considered myself to be a politically conservative person. But after teaching in the Bronx and experiencing what happens in a neighborhood of education deprivation, my political views began to change to what I am now, a very liberal person,” he said.
Naturally, Boericke is still working on his upcoming speech, but he plans to incorporate some of the life lessons he has learned through his varied experiences and hopes that the seniors part ways with his advice in mind. “I don’t want my speech be a sermon on how to live, but I want to use lessons I have learned that would be useful to remember. I’ve been through phases of ups and downs, even more than most people of my age, and I’ve learned a lot from that,” Boericke said. Through his experiences with his variety of professions, Boericke has learned that anything and everything can become something useful in the future. “Even if you’re doing something different and off track, it can develop into things that can become relevant on your set track,” he said.
And what of the anecdote about killing an alligator? “A lot of people have asked me about that, and so I’ve decided to include that in my speech for graduation—however, there will be a moral to it,” Boericke said. It is clear that this speech will provide an interesting glimpse into the life of such an intriguing faculty member at Stuyvesant High School.