Classroom walls lined with posters of yearbook photos of his students from over four decades of teaching are the backdrop for German language class as teacher Timothy Berg skillfully weaves homespun humor and life lessons into his review of verb tenses and conjugations.
Berg has spent the last 17 of his 42 total years in teaching at Patch High School in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart. He estimates that at the 11 different schools he has taught at in Germany and in his home state of Minnesota, more than 4,500 students have been under his tutelage.
“The walls are covered with my former students,” said Berg, as his eyes swept over hundreds of photographed faces. “From memory, with all the yearbooks, I tried to remember which students I taught. I sometimes left out some, but have the bulk of them.
“I wanted to remember those images,” he added.
As he prepares for retirement at the close of the 2011-12 school year, Berg will draw on those memories and others as he says goodbye to teaching. He has taught German for 27 years in Department of Defense Dependents Schools and for 15 years in Minnesota.
“Sure, German has been a huge part of my life, but I can turn it off and let it go,” said Berg, 63, who plans to retire to Texas. “I have been tremendously graced by the Lord that he’s let me teach his children and has trusted me. I’ve accomplished professionally what I wanted to do.”
While PHS Principal Danny Robinson, new to the school, hasn’t known Berg long, he said the teaching veteran has already made an impression as a passionate professional.
“…He gave me a tour of his classroom — to include the posters — and as he spoke about many of the students displayed, I could tell that (he) was extremely proud of his teaching career,” Robinson said. “He does what is right for kids every day.”
Describing himself as an “old-schooler and grammarian,” Berg said he stresses the fundamentals of speaking, reading, writing and listening.
“I seriously love teaching as much now as the first year I taught,” said Berg, whose first teaching job was in 1969 at Upsala High School in Minnesota. “These kids love me, and I love them. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Berg described his teaching style as a bit unorthodox and said that the hardest part of his job is doling out “firm, but not too hard-nosed” discipline.
“He’s firm, but it’s a jolly firmness,” said Emily Zimmerman, a sophomore in Berg’s Advanced Placement German class. Berg also taught her German III last year.
“He’s pretty phenomenal and really clarifies a lot of things. I walk away from his class learning more than German,” she added.
German III student Gabi Putnam, taking Berg for the first time this school year, described him as a “life teacher.” “He speaks firsthand from experience, and a lot of kids respond to that,” Putnam, 15, said. “He’s a moral teacher and brings important aspects of life into his teaching.”
Zimmerman and Putnam agreed that they feel honored to be among the last students that Berg will teach. “When I’m in here, I feel like I’m carrying on the legacy of all these students,” Putnam said, glancing around at the posters lining Berg’s classroom walls.
Berg said he has no regrets about his decision to retire.
“It’s going to be sad when I retire, very sad, but nobody is indispensable. I plan to spend my time serving the Lord through my church in whatever capacity the parish needs me,” he said.