Bergeson selected as the Minnesota Outstanding Earth Science Teacher
Fifth-grade teacher Jody Bergeson began her career, then stopped. She decided to go back to nursing school, became a nurse and has worked in the profession for 32 years.
She made her choice not to be a teacher, but teaching wasn’t ready to give up on her.
Bergeson, encouraged by her nursing friends, got back into teaching roughly 15 years ago. This year, she was unanimously selected as National Association of Geoscience Teachers Minnesota Outstanding Earth Science Teacher.
The award recognizes “exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the Earth Sciences at the pre-college level,” according to the organization’s website.
“I’ve been thinking about ways that, not necessarily that she be recognized, but some way to highlight everything she does every day,” said Brian Cashman, who nominated her.
Cashman, coordinator of alternative programs for the Goodhue County Education District and former science teacher, added Bergeson is a teacher who is in perpetual pursuit of a new approach, something unique that has yet to be done.
“She’s seen a lot and done a lot over the years, but when I talk to her she’s always thinking about what she could have done differently, or she’s telling me about the time she puts in,” Cashman said.
Bergeson was quick to point to all the good work throughout the district as a key to her success — along with her husband Jim, who taught science for 27 years for Red Wing Public Schools.
“Most teachers work really hard, we all work really hard,” Bergeson said. “It just kind of confirms that I’m headed in the right direction with the kids.”
One of the aspects of Bergeson’s teaching style that caught the eye of the selection committee was her willingness to engage students in inquiry-based, hands-on lab experiences and her ability to incorporate fieldwork into her classroom experience.
“I believe in hands-on, giving it a try,” Bergeson said. “What we do as humans impacts the environment and vice versa. It’s all a big circle.”
Over the summer, Bergeson, with the help of some high school students, put glow-in-the-dark stars on the walls and ceiling of her classroom, careful to ensure the correct placement of constellations and the Milky Way in the night sky.
When the lights go off, Bergeson said, people down the hall in the library can hear the reactions of the students.
“It’s just kind of magical,” she said.
Bergeson’s classes begin with a meteorology report from a student, she’s had a Readers’ Theater program where students combined reading, writing and science into a weather-related play and she routinely uses the backdrop of the middle school as an outdoor classroom.
“So you connect with kids where they are and you can construct new knowledge with those hands-on experiences, novel, unique things to build their understanding of science,” Bergeson said. “And that’s really our job as science teachers, is to build the literacy, the scientific literacy.”
Bergeson’s explanation of her teaching approach is it’s just a philosophy that works for her, even if it gets a little chaotic at times and there’s usually a mess to clean up when all is said and done.
“It’s getting them to think about questions,” Bergeson said, adding that enlightenment comes in the question, not the answer. “That’s what I really like, is to see the kids try something new.”