Meet KPU: Betty Anne Buirs

Buirs is retiring after 30 years as an instructor at KPU

Betty Anne Buirs is an English instructor at KPU and is retiring after teaching at the university for 30 years. (Submitted)

Betty Anne Buirs is an English instructor at KPU and is retiring after teaching at the university for 30 years. (Submitted)

Betty Anne Buirs has been an English instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for 30 years and will be retiring at the end of the summer semester. Buirs is also a Kwantlen alumna who enrolled in classes at the institution in the early 1980s when the institution started off as a college. 

In 2004, Buirs created the Kwantlen Virtual Writing website. This resource helps first-year students gain knowledge through learning grammar skills and performing literary analysis exercises, designed to help them throughout their time at KPU. The website will be updated in September with more videos and interactive elements. 


When did you join the KPU community and why? 

I started working at KPU in 1993, which was when they opened the Langley campus. As luck would have it, I was just finishing up my PhD and starting to look for jobs. I wanted to go back to a small community college because that was where I had started. When I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I felt like a number. The classes were so big and I felt lost there. I had such a great experience as a student at Kwantlen and was delighted when they opened up the new campus and were doing a big hire that year. 


What is your favourite story of your time at KPU? 

A lot of my stories focus on those running jokes that would develop over the course of the semester that would always crack me up and make the class feel like a community. I think my favorite one is after I’ve been teaching for a little while, I realized as an instructor that when you ask a question, you don’t get the joyful responses from 20 different people, you get the same four keeners putting up their hands every single time. The people who aren’t answering the question feel like they’re getting off easy, but they don’t really want to listen to the same four people every time either. 

So early in my career, I started getting my students to work in pairs and would give them an exercise. They were engaged and got a lot of different ideas out, however, I did not want to keep them in the same pairs for the entire semester. So, I would switch them up once a month and they would meet new people on the other side of the classroom. The class becomes more interesting and they move around and meet different people. I notice students making friends and going out for coffee together. I wanted to put students with other students they would feel comfortable with and one time, a pair really set it off and ended up getting married. 

So, every year, I would introduce the idea that I was doing a seating plan and at first students are never keen. But, they end up loving it because they meet lots of people. Sometimes students would sit together from high school and I remember one pair, it seemed like a really toxic pairing to me. I could not wait to break them up. As soon as I did, the one that was being subtly bullied by the other one just came out of her shell.


What is something you’d like to say to people new to KPU? 

Put yourselves out there. When I was a student, I wanted to take English courses all day and I would have done that if I could have. However, I am glad that I got a liberal education where I had to take other courses because it informed my understanding of the literature. Sometimes students have this tunnel vision where they think, ‘Well, I am going to accounting, I should only take accounting,’ and they do not get why they are taking English classes. Keep an open mind because these programs are put together for a reason. Also, this exposure to other subjects can turn out to be really helpful, and making connections is huge. 

When I was teaching in-person, students would all go on their phones. In the first class, I would say, ‘Put down your phone and talk to the person next to you.’ Phones are such a security blanket. Try to meet some people in your classes. This one guy, who I met in residence at UBC, I have known for over 42 years. He was sitting alone in the cafeteria and I went over and started talking to him. He is now my best friend and if I had my phone, I do not know if I would have noticed him sitting by himself. Making connections and meeting new people is a big part of the university experience. Also, ask for help. I think sometimes students wait too long when they do not understand something. Having someone put you in touch with things you need is really helpful. 


What are you working on right now? 

When I started at Kwantlen, I worked in the Learning Centre for a couple of years as a tutor. Students would come in and see me with anything they wanted. I would pull out my own handouts if someone was having grammar issues and they would say, ‘Can I have that?’ and I would have to email students the list of handouts that they wanted and I thought this was ridiculous. So, I created the Virtual Writing Centre in 2004. It has a whole series of handouts on grammar and it has exercises and explanations on how to analyze literary texts. 

Students do not really read handouts anymore and it seems archaic. So, this summer, I decided to add video explanations for each area of grammar with interactive Moodle quizzes. If they click on a multiple-choice answer, they get an explanation of why it is right or wrong. Even if students get an answer right, I want them to know why it is right. Right now, I am adding all those explanations and it is something I have been wanting to do for a while. 


What is something you would like people to know about you? 

I am obsessed with food. Cooking has always been my go-to activity. The minute I am finished teaching, I am cooking up something new. With teaching I always learned the most from the things that did not work. It is the same with recipes. I will make a recipe and I am willing to give it a shot. You just keep tweaking it. I have some recipes that work really well and overtime I change them up a little bit. When I finally get it to a good point, my husband tells me to lock it in. 

KPU students interested in the Kwantlen Virtual Writing website can access the resource by visiting