Bernards career at K-M an unexpected turn of events
In the past 36 years, the Kasson-Mantorville school district has seen plenty of change. There have been new faces, new buildings and new programs that have been injected into the district over the years and have made it what it is today. However, over that same time there has been one constant in high school math teacher Jeff Bernards. In a couple of short months, Bernards’ teaching career that has spanned nearly four decades will come to a close, but there are plenty of things he’s seen around the district that not only spawned his love for teaching, but his love for the community.
“I wouldn’t have stayed here if education wasn’t a priority of the people of Kasson and Mantorville,” Bernards said. “K-M is a pretty good district and it always has been. I’ve been blessed to raise my four children here and I’ve been blessed to be a teacher here because we have good kids and we have good staff.”
Bernards’ path to the K-M district wasn’t one that had been planned. Growing up, Bernards spent a lot of time around his father, who was the principal at Brooklyn Center High School. As one of the first people hired in the district, he was tasked with building the school from the ground up choosing the school’s colors (purple and white) and their nickname, the Centaurs.
“It’s a half-man, half-beast,” Bernards chuckled. “I’ve been around Centaurs and I’ve been around KoMets and there aren’t too many of either as a mascot.”
As the son of a principal, Bernards would spend a lot of days at the school, bouncing on the gymnastics trampoline or shooting hoops while his dad got work done on Sunday afternoons. While he was always around fellow teachers, the one thing he heard repeatedly was that he never should become one.
“Everyone at the high school said, you don’t want to be a teacher,” Bernards recalled. “You have to deal with kids all day and the pay was terrible and you just didn’t want to be a teacher. Looking back, they were trying to make sure that if I was going to be a teacher, I was going to do it for the right reasons and not just because my dad was a teacher.”
Bernards would eventually head to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. where he would pursue a degree in business. In order to take those classes, Bernards first had to take calculus and realized he was pretty good and had a passion for numbers. After changing his major to math, he became a tutor and also realized that he had a passion for teaching.
“I found out that I liked helping people and that I was pretty good at it,” Bernards said. “Low and behold, I graduated with a math degree and an education minor and
I started looking at teaching jobs.”
As his job search began, a classmate of Bernards brought up a small community in Southeastern Minnesota that was looking for a math teacher.
“Kay-sahn-Mantorville?” Bernards said upon seeing the name. “Where the heck is that? I had never been to Southeastern Minnesota, but I applied to the job and
planned on being there three to five years, but 36 years later, I’m still here.”
Bernards arrived in the fall of 1983 and immediately started teaching calculus and other high level math classes. In addition, the K-M golf coach, Jim Turner had recently retired and the school turned to Bernards to fill the position. He was also brought on for football to work on the staff of Dennis Yell and eventually Ivan Koulik and Broc Threinen. After a couple of years at K-M, Bernards brought his wife, Cindy, down who he had met in college, but moved down alone when he had taken the job. From there, the couple had four children (Joshua, Adam, Rachel and Sarah) and became entrenched in the community.
“When it was five years later and my wife and I were wondering if we wanted to move, it didn’t make sense,” Bernards said. “I was teaching upper level math classes and was coaching golf and football. I really couldn’t ask for a better assignment.”
In the classroom, Bernards focused on having his students become advocates for their own education and take control of it. He also believes in teaching his students how to handle adversity and pick themselves up when they need to.
“I try to help them understand that they’re not always going to be successful whether it’s mathematically
or in real life,” Bernards explained. “You’re going to have ups and downs and everybody is good at dealing with the ups. But how do you deal with the downs? Part of that is helping the kids becoming their own advocates and to have them take an active part in what they are doing.”
That style of teaching helped generations of students at K-M and this past month, Bernards was recognized as the Rochester Post Bulletin’s Teacher of the Month. Former students and fellow teachers have reached out to Bernards to send their congratulations, but he sees himself as just one piece of many that make the district so successful.
“It was a surprise,” Bernards said of the award. “There’s dozens of teachers in our school system that could be teacher of the month. I was fortunate I got recognized and was nominated, but it’s been fun.” As he enters the final months of his teaching career, Bernards marvels at the district and how much has changed over the years. When he first arrived, K-M had a graduating class of 80 kids, but when his youngest daughter, Sarah, graduated in 2016, that number had grown to 180. That along with the other changes in the community have made this place home for Bernards and his family.
“We have good kids here,” Bernards said. “I always say our worst kids are somebody else’s good kids. I would say we have a good community that supports education and we have good kids. I’ve just been very blessed to be here.”