A recent conversation with my sweet mother reminded me of my younger years and the many wonderful teachers that assisted in educating me. One teacher in particular, Mrs. Bergner quickly came to mind. Just the mention of her name washed a flood of great memories over me. In fact, most of what was good about school in the 4th grade was due to Mrs. Bergner.
Her classroom was fun. Not the kind of rollicking fun that can overtake the learning, but fun in just the right doses. Like reading to us every week from books she knew would connect with us. The characters jumped right off the page and into our lives because she read with the personality, comedic timing, and charm of a born storyteller. Chapter after chapter, we soaked up the stories and her contagious love of books.
Her sense of humor was calm and comfortable, like we all owned the inside joke. This quality helped to make our successes celebratory and our struggles survivable. Her kind wit made her classroom inclusive.
There was no humiliation in Mrs. Bergner’s class, even in the face of failure. We lined up at her desk to get assistance because she made it ok to ask for help. Even raising a hand to ask a question from our desks was not intimidating; our understanding was her goal and she wanted everyone to succeed.
Her classroom was as well structured as her daily schedule. We sat in organized rows facing our teacher, and she expected eyes and ears to be focused in her direction while she was teaching. And so they were. As we learned our 4th grade curriculum we also learned that there were times and places for certain things, it was the right thing to do to be quiet when needed, and respectful behavior was a requirement for a successful life.
She was a source of reassurance at a time when we were approaching the turbulence of adolescence. She simply was not rattled by our issues, absurdities, or blunders. In later years, after I became a teacher myself, I marveled at the memory of her calm, temperate, and encouraging responses to a room of twenty-five nine and ten year olds.
We had large closets in the back of our classroom where we kept our coats and personal belongings. The outsides of these closet doors were always decorated with something beautiful. Seasons, holidays, and special events and ideas were celebrated on the closet doors. The room decorations added to the someone-here-cares-about-your-day ambience that floated through her teaching space. In my case it reminded me of home; perhaps for some other 4th graders, it was the homey-ness they wished for. Mrs. Bergner’s room was designed to make kids comfortable and it worked.
No one was her favorite and so everyone was her favorite. She managed the delicate balance of accepting each of us for who we were and who she believed we could be. As far as we knew, she found something to like about all of us.
As far as academics go, aside from some stressful moments that included the calculation of fractions, I really do not recall much of the specific content I learned. I must have done tolerably well as I found myself deposited into the 5th grade the following year. Most of my memories of 4th grade have Mrs. Bergner at the center; she was the heart and soul of my year.
To Mrs. Bergner and all the great elementary teachers out there--we appreciate you. Kids really value and remember the educational environment you provide, even decades later.
A very special thank you to Mrs.Scarlet Bergner for being an amazing 4th grade teacher. I have not been in your classroom since 1980 (I will be 51 this year,) but decades later your classroom is still in my heart.