Kyle Berg was scrolling through Facebook when he came across a post by Scott Cushman, digital communications director at Union College. The post was a request for Union College alumni to share if and how they stayed connected with professors after graduation.
Right away, Berg clicked “comment.”
I had such a great connection with my professors while I was in college, and I am beyond happy to stay connected with them now that I have graduated, began the effusive three-paragraph post.
“I got pretty mushy about Union,” Berg later admitted.
But the 2016 graduate stands by everything he wrote.
“As a student at Union College, I never felt like a number,” he said. “And now as a graduate, I’m not only an alumnus. I’m still part of the school.”
As a humanities teacher at Mile High Academy in Denver, Colorado, the former student is now passing that sense of belonging on to his own students.
“Most of the resources I give my students are ones I had in college,” he said. “The lessons I learned are ones that I attempt to convey.”
Those resources and lessons are more than platitudes for general success. They are specific and practical, from the layout of the curriculum to the layout of the desks.
“[Retired Union English professor] Chris Blake made it a point for us to sit in a circle, even if the classroom was designed in rows,” Berg said. “Proximity is important to growth. When you draw close to one another, that’s where learning happens. When I create a space in my room where kids are comfortable to share, that makes me a better teacher.”
That comfortable space is not just physical.
“In my literature classes, I’m always pushing kids to find ways to relate to the text and share with me,” Berg said. “When I learn how they’re learning, that gives me new and deeper understanding.”
This, too, goes back to his experiences as a student.
“In the same way that my professors sought to learn from me, I seek to learn from my students,” he said.
Surviving student teaching
Although he feels at home in the classroom now, there was a time when Berg doubted himself.
Student teaching is a core component of an education degree at Union College, and it is not without challenges. But for Berg, it nearly ended his teaching career before it even began.
“Student teaching was one of the hardest semesters of my college career,” Berg said of his time in the classroom at Lincoln Southeast High School. “It is difficult to jump in and teach, and I really felt discouraged.”
Instead of quitting, Berg found inspiration from those who had survived their own early teaching experiences: his own teachers at Union.
“Hearing similar stories from teachers I respected, I knew it was going to be okay,” he said.
For further assurance, he invited one of his favorite teachers, Professor of English Dr. Tanya Cochran. After observing him, she told him what he needed to hear: he was doing a good job.
“I was always surrounded by extremely competent professionals,” Berg said. “I desired to become like that.”
Such support and inspiration kept him in the program and saw him all the way to graduation.
But it didn’t stop there. On a recent visit back to Union, a teacher sat Berg down to ask about his career at Mile High. On that same trip, associate dean Ron Dodds told Berg he still prays for him every day.
“That kind of thing means a lot to me,” Berg said. “Everyone at Union cares about your success in school, but they really want to see it flourish outside of school. The fact that I graduated and wasn’t forgotten is tremendous.”
So when he saw the Facebook post from Scott Cushman, Berg stretched his fingers and got to writing. He had a lot to say.
—Michael Rohm is a freelance writer and journalist in Oregon.