Educating kids, learning himself

YELM: Recently honored by the state, teacher Ed Bergh talks about life, career

Staff writerMarch 26, 2012 

Yelm High School’s Ed Bergh recently was honored as Washington Civic Educator of the Year by the state Legislature.

He teaches world problems, history and a variety of American government electives.

“He loves what he helps his students accomplish,” said Yelm High Principal Brian Wharton. “This passion and energy motivates other teachers.”

Bergh, 60, of Olympia, talked to The Olympian about his career. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in New York City, and grew up in Ohio. We moved to Bellevue when I was a senior in high school.

I’ve been a high school teacher for my entire career – that’s what I do. I’ve taught for 38 years (all at Yelm High School). I’ve also ended up doing quite a bit of research and writing on the history of Yelm.

Tell us about your family.

I’m married to an educator, Melissa, who runs HomeLink in our district. It’s a program designed to attract homeschoolers into the school system. We have two sons. Mason works at Alpine Experience, and Pearce is going to DigiPen in Redmond.

What is your educational background?

I graduated from Western (Washington University), with a bachelor of arts in political science. I did lots of independent contract work at The Evergreen State College. Basically I’ve sort of educated myself since I became a teacher.

Why did you go into teaching?

I took the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), I applied to one school and I was turned down. I said, “What can I do with a political science degree? I’ll become a teacher.” Back then you showed up you said, “I want to be a teacher” and you were in. I couldn’t have made a better decision in my life. I just love this job.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I enjoy learning my subject. I love educating myself. And then I love the creative aspect of taking that knowledge and forming it into lessons for students. I love seeing students respond to a challenge and enjoy learning. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the aha moment” when they get something. I think that’s part of it. And I love putting together my classes. I really enjoy trying to figure out how to deliver information in different ways.

What do you enjoy about social studies?

I always compare it to a soap opera. You’re coming into a storyline and you don’t know the plot and who the characters are, and my job is to catch you up on the past decade. I pride myself in staying fair, and presenting both sides of every debate or issue. I’m sort of the referee, and the source of information. I have no evidence for this, but I believe high school may very well be the last time people sit with lots of different people with different points of view and talk to each other. It is so much fun to listen to these 17- and 18-year-olds talk in a civil matter about two sides when they disagree. We tend to ignore the other side (when we are older).

How have your classes changed over the years?

With the Internet and photocopies, accessing information is so much easier. Back in the day, we had to make dittos, or if wanted material, we had to subscribe to a bunch of magazines or go to a library for materials. Now you can find newspaper stories, court documents, everything online. You don’t have to wait six months.

What are your hobbies?

My wife and I like to go out to eat. We both read. Our idea of a good time is sitting around Friday and Saturday evenings reading. I love to research and write history. And we have a house with a beautiful backyard and garden. For the longest time, we taught summer school. We just can’t get enough of the kids.

What’s your teaching style? What makes your civics classes different from others?

My classes are stress-free. There’s a lot of give and take. There’s a lot of discussion. I don’t lecture a lot. My students look at material and analyze it and figure out things for themselves.

Tell us about the award.

The Legislature gives the award to outstanding civics educators. The runners-up did a variety of things: They had outreach programs to try and get voting information to Hispanics, to make voting real to middle schoolers – all of these different things that educators do to try and capture voters’ interest, which to me is like the easiest thing in the world. I’ve been having my students pay attention to the (presidential) campaign. I tell them it’s not always going to be this interesting and entertaining. For the award, we had a free lunch and I got a certificate and a reproduction of the state Capitol with my name engraved on it. My boss and Superintendent Andy Wolf were there. This is what’s delightful: I taught Andy when he was a student at Yelm High School. (State Rep.) JT Wilcox was there, too, who I also taught along with his brothers, cousins and children.

When do you plan to retire?

I plan to work at least until I’m 67 and who knows. My father worked into his 70s. There’s no heavy lifting, and I think I’m still improving and getting better at it. I just love it so much.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Two years ago, while I was watching television, I suddenly developed double vision. It turns out I had a walnut-sized tumor on my brain. The tumor is a chordoma tumor. It’s not cancerous, but it’s very difficult to treat. (During surgery) I bled, I had a stroke and I was paralyzed on my left side. I lost hearing in my left ear. I was in the hospital for two months as I slowly regained ability.

That was May of 2010, and I was back in my classroom in September. That fall, I spent two months undergoing treatment in Loma Linda, Calif. The tumor’s remnants are dormant, so I get to live forever again.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433
Twitter: @Lisa_Pemberton

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