Jefferson Bernards, a math teacher and coach at Kasson-Mantorville High School for 26 years, is the Post Bulletin Teacher of the Month for January.
Name: Jefferson Bernards (my dad admired Thomas Jefferson), my friends call me Jeff or JB.
Family: Wife, Cindy. She has put up with me for 34 years. Son Joshua, a teacher in Byron, his wife, Stephanie, and their children Amelia and Levi. Son Adam works for the Secret Service in D.C., his wife, Cassandra, and their daughter Brielle. Daughter Rachel works as a graphic designer in the Twin Cities. Daughter Sarah is a junior at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. We are blessed.
Hometown: I graduated from Brooklyn Center High School, just north of Minneapolis. My dad was the principal of Brooklyn Center High from the year I was born until I graduated. We were the Centaurs (look it up to see what it is!).
What is the best or favorite part of your day?
It is always working with the students and staff at KM. Now, that is a clichéd answer, but I love teaching and working with the students. Every day they say something, see something, or suggest something about math and life that I had not noticed before. Each student is unique, with a unique perspective they bring into the classroom. We challenge each other, and plans change on the fly.
I work with some of the best people around, from my fellow teachers and coaches, to the administration, the guidance office, the secretaries, the custodians and the food service people. We are very, very, very blessed at KM to have the people we have working for the district and the facilities that we get to work in.
What or who inspired you to become a teacher?
There are three parts to this answer. One of my inspirations was my dad, Gunnar, who was principal at the high school where I grew up. I watched how my dad treated people. Dad treated all people, and I mean all people, with respect. He may have disagreed with someone, but he did it with respect.
A second inspiration was one of my high school teachers, Warren Olson, who taught outside the box and he challenged us to think outside the box. Warren knew what was important and what was not important and challenged us to figure that out for ourselves.
My third inspiration was my Calculus 1 professor at Saint Olaf, a man by the name of Ted Vessey, who was chairman of the math department at that time. He made learning fun and interesting. He, too, thought and taught outside the box. He knew that math was important, interesting and challenging, but that it was not the most important thing in the world.
My father, Warren and Ted had a balance to their lives where they worked hard at their jobs but knew that ultimately there were other things that were just as important.
What is one thing you want your students to retain from their days with you?
Sorry, this is more than one thing — work hard, accept that we all fail at times, and this failure leads to some of our greatest growth and finally, to be able to discern between what is or is not important in life.
Do you have a teaching “philosophy”? What is it?
I try to treat each of the students as if they were my own child. Sometimes my children and my students need a swift kick in the butt, so to speak, and hopefully I give them that when they need it. At many other times, we all need an encouraging word and a pat on the back. My students and I have exchanged quite a few fist bumps over the years.
What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened in your classroom?
That sometimes we even do math in between the stories, the sermons, the laughter and the tears. Every set of students is another set of memories and stories.