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More Than an English Teacher

Bryanna Ferreira, Staff Writer

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These days, many teachers feel pressured to focus their instruction on teaching lessons strictly from the textbook. Students generally only learn information they will need in order to pass a test, but leave the class with minimal knowledge of how to survive in this intimidating world.

Ludlow High’s new, short-term substitute teacher, Kayleigh Berger, stresses the importance of acquiring not only skills related to the curriculum, but also life skills. “A lot of what I teach has to do with life skills, rather than only English,” says Berger.

In late March, sophomore English teacher Jennifer Ollquist gave birth to a baby boy. Berger took over for Ollquist and is now enjoying her first experience teaching.  

“I love what I do. It feels so good and so natural to finally have my own classroom like I have wanted for so long,” Berger expressed with pure joy. Berger has always been passionate about learning and showed excellent achievement in English during her high school years at Southwick Tolland Regional High School. She now seeks to give back to society by influencing her students the way she recalls her teachers helping her in the past.

Originally, Berger studied psychology at Worcester State University. Being an empathetic person, she struggled with the heaviness of psychology. The drastic scenarios described in psychology tended to bring down her naturally upbeat spirit. “It was hard for me to help others because I am a firm believer that you can’t help others until you help yourself,” she says, regarding why psychology was so different for her.

In a child literacy class in college, Berger had a sudden realization that she belongs in a position where she can help others in a more positive setting, where she aims to make a lifelong difference in a community of young learners.

With this change of heart, Berger graduated from Worcester State in 2016 with a major in English, minors in both secondary education and psychology, and a concentration in women’s studies.

She continues to bring her background of psychology into the classroom, creating a unique style of teaching that appeals to the students of LHS.

“I really enjoy Ms. Berger’s style of teaching. It makes me feel peaceful, which is important for students because we are often under so much stress,” says sophomore Mary Jordan.

At the beginning and end of class, Berger often allows her students to take a guided breathing moment. She leads students through three or four long, slow, breaths while remaining mindful of  good posture. When students seem tired in class, she pauses the lesson to allow students to stand up and participate in a variety of movement breaks. All of these tools are acts of self care, that Berger takes seriously.

“I know that I need it, so I imagine that others do too,” says Berger. She feels as though it would not hurt anybody to learn ways to take care of themselves, even if they do not plan to use these techniques outside the classroom. Taking time for self care is quick and harmless, and several students find it very beneficial.

Berger learned useful self care techniques from her aunt, Kate Forest, who specializes as a Self Care and Mindful Living Teacher and Trainer. Forest even came into each of Berger’s classes to teach students at LHS about tools to use for relaxation, such as the singing bowl. She practiced different breathing techniques to either energize students, or relax them from stress. This is something students have never attempted in a classroom. Berger continues to use Forest’s techniques daily.

In fact, Forest will soon make an appearance once again here at Ludlow High. Monday, May 15 from 6:30 to 8:00 in the evening, Forest will show the audience different techniques to use in order to relax in times of stress, and focus on their minds. This Ludlow CARES event promises “Stress Relief for Busy People.”

“I will always be a student. My goal is to learn just as much from my students as they learn from me. The day that stops happening is the day I will stop teaching,” says Berger. From working with high school students, Berger learns a lot about the significance of mutual respect. She also learned that a little encouragement can go a long way. She always wishes students good luck before tests and assures them that they will succeed.

As an example, Berger took over for Ollquist during a difficult writing assignment that caused anxiety among students.

“It was not too tedious for me to grade such a large assignment, but I struggled with handling the repercussions,” says Berger. She worried about students resenting the way she graded the tests.

As a solution, Berger encouraged students to visit her for a respectful one-to-one discussion. This offered students individual attention to learn how to improve their writing. According to Berger, “that brought me closer to my students because they saw that I am here to teach them something, not to force them into a struggle with their grades.”

Berger hopes to make a difference in the academic careers of students and even in their lives. One student already significantly improved their average in this honors class since she took over. Parents have emailed Berger to thank her for going above and beyond to help their child. Naturally, Berger felt overwhelmed with joy because she became a teacher so she could help students, and that is exactly what she did.

“I can’t be naive and think that I can help every student, or else I’ll really wear myself out. However, if I can really make a connection with even a few students, then I really did my job,” Berger claims.

She strives to make students feel comfortable with her because that is what she would want as a student. “Why not be approachable? Why not be silly and own up to my mistakes? We are all human,” she says. Students appreciate her persona, which created an easy transition to having a new teacher.

Berger thoroughly enjoys working at Ludlow High. She uses the word “home” to describe how she feels at her job. She appreciates the constant assistance and support from the guidance department along with her colleagues. Despite having started this job only about a month ago, Berger feels as though she has been working here forever.  

“This school is so positive with such friendly people. I hope students see how lucky they are to have so many resources and opportunities. I feel lucky to be a part of it,” Berger says, which can be eye-opening for students who often complain about LHS.

Next year, Berger will take her unique way of teaching to Holyoke. This will be her first time teaching in her very own classroom. “I am anxious and excited for yet another journey to begin,” she says.
Of course, she will miss the welcoming community here at LHS, and students here will always feel gratitude towards her for being more than just an English teacher.

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1 Comment

One Response to “More Than an English Teacher”

  1. Kate Forest on May 2nd, 2017 2:14 am

    Such a great article Bryanna!! Thank you for sharing my work with the world. I’d love for you to attend my CARES event.

    Please care kindly for yourself.

    Gratitude.

    Kate Forest

    [Reply]

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More Than an English Teacher