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Beginning a New School Year…and a “Sha Na Na”….

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Thursday I dropped off a small gift for my daughter, Principal of a Middle School in the school district I live in. It was a 2017-18 computer produced calendar from the always popular Education Minnesota booth at the Minnesota State Fair. “Happy New Year” I said. Teacher workshop week was about over, and school begins (in almost all Minnesota school districts) the day after Labor Day. Here’s the Education Minnesota “welcome back” ad for 2017. Here’s more.

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Education Minnesota booth at Minnesota State Fair. Corey Bulman, 2017 Teacher of the Year, was guest in the booth.

(Best as I recall, the photo calendar idea began as an expensive experiment in about 1990, which was the first year digital imaging connected to computer became commercially available (see history of digital imaging here). Back then, the organization was named Minnesota Education Association. It was, as stated, an expensive experiment, but as best I know every year since the photo calendars have become very popular, a tradition for many, and, I suppose, less expensive, too. It is a great connection of educators with the community.)


In one way or another over 50 million students are beginning their public school year (in Minnesota, this happens tomorrow). Here’s another view of the same data. Another 5 million or more public school employees (teachers, administrators, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers….) enter school with them. In all, that’s about one of five Americans.

All, beginning with school bus drivers, will have (or already have had) the annual nervous night before the first day of school as they arrive at their assigned places of work. Remember your own first days of the school year: new everything, starting a new year.

Of course, many other students attend parochial, or charter, or home school…but by far the largest, always, is the public school whose charter is to serve everyone, never a simple task.

Daughter Joni (referred to in first paragraph) is beginning her 14th year as a school administrator. Time flies. One of her major tasks, in addition to being Principal, is to supervise the completion of a new Middle School, which will replace her 1951 building in 2018. She’s equal to the task.


I’m biased towards public education. Both parents were career public school teachers. Six Aunts and Uncles were public school teachers, most for a career…. I was involved in public education for 36 years – junior high teacher (9 years) and full-time teacher union representative (27). As mentioned, one daughter is, and has been for many years, a public school teacher or administrator. Nine grandkids are veterans of public schools. Another daughter was a school board member, very active in her local public schools.

Such a huge institution as “public education” is easy to criticize. All you need is a spotlight and a single someone on which to focus criticism, and a microphone to publicize it. With over 50,000,000 potential targets, there is someone there who will be in the negative spotlight.

But look at the totality before embracing the criticism….

Public education is a noble institution whose mission is to take all, and do the best they can given scarce resources: often too large class sizes, infinite varieties of individual differences and dilemmas, from family crises, to differing abilities, and even personality conflicts between human beings (teachers and students and other school employees are human beings too, after all).

Welcome back. Our country is a richer place because of public education.


As noted, I have been very fortunate to be associated with public education my entire life.

A down side of this, as one ages, is to be witness at endings. Within the last month, I attended three memorials of public school teachers I knew, each unique persons. About seven people I knew were at the most recent reunion of the junior high school at which I taught in the 1960s and early 70s. The most recent death, Jim Peterson, former Fridley teacher, was the teacher I knew the least. His wife preceded him in death by a year, and he was felled quickly by a disease lurking inside him, so he didn’t have much time to say goodbyes.

I wrote the family afterwards that I had been to many memorials, but Jim’s, which he planned himself, was the most memorable, in all sorts of ways which don’t need to be described, except for the final song at the time we processed out of the sanctuary for the church ladies lunch.

The singer, who said she knew Jim as a neighbor and almost like a Dad, said he’d given her two songs to sing at dismissal.

The one I’ll always remember was the last, a delightful rendition of the “Sha na na” song. Not familiar with Sha Na Na? Here’s the YouTube version sung by the composer of the song back in 1969, and here’s the wiki story about Sha na na.

Imagine yourself walking out of church after a memorial service with this send off!

Do you know a teacher or a school employee or a student or one who has been? Wish them well, as this New Year begins.

POSTNOTE: My message to public schools, from “outside the walls”, remains on-line as it has been for many years. Read the message at Rethinking Community here.

#763 – Dick Bernard: Congratulations, Tom and Jennifer, at your 25th Anniversary. “For everything, there is a season.”

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

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Rick, Joan and Ron reminisce, August 21, 2013

Rick, Joan and Ron reminisce, August 21, 2013

Today is son Tom and Jennifers 25th wedding anniversary.

Congratulations to you both.

Achieving 25 years together is one of those significant accomplishments, not easy to attain. That’s long enough to experience both the unknown and unknowable. For a couple to reach 25 years together is a significant achievement, as anyone who has ever been in any relationship can attest.

For just a single example, Tom’s Mom, Barbara, and I married 50 years ago this year: June 8, 1963. Neither of us were expecting that she’d spend almost all of our very short marriage ill, dying little over two years later, July 24, 1965.

Roughly half-way through that brief marriage, Tom was born. He will turn 50 in a few months.

I became a single parent early.

Just two days ago I was out to Anoka, our first home after Barbara died, part of a reunion of fellow staff members of Roosevelt Junior High School in Blaine MN. I had signed a contract to teach there three days before Barbara, died, and I began teaching there scarce a month later, doing my best to cope, with the substantial help of new friends in my new home, far from ND, where we had lived the earlier years of our lives. I was there seven years, moving on in an unexpected direction which occupied my next 27 years.

Roosevelt Jr. High School, Blaine MN, Summer, 1968.  Photo by Dick Bernard

Roosevelt Jr. High School, Blaine MN, Summer, 1968. Photo by Dick Bernard

I told a colleague, Wednesday, that I still have not pieced together the events of that month of August, 1965…I guess it’s like living through a disaster: you remember it happened, but not exactly what. Survival trumps memory.

The picture which leads this post, was taken at that reunion two days ago: three of my colleagues from those early years. The photo started life as a mistake, but under the circumstances it is an ideal representation of times past. I taught with these folks. They are about my age. They can represent everyone I’ve ever known on the path of life thus far.

Earlier that same day, August 21, I received an e-mail from someone in Maryland, whose Mom remembers my parents, most likely in 1939-40, when they lived in Valley City, North Dakota, essentially next door to her then-young Mom and Dad. It caused me to dig out the earliest photo I have of myself, with my parents, 73 years ago in Valley City:

Henry and Esther Bernard with newborn son, Richard, May, 1940, Valley City ND

Henry and Esther Bernard with newborn son, Richard, May, 1940, Valley City ND

Her Mom has to be somewhere near 100 now.

(It’s odd what such pictures sometimes bring to the surface. For those of a certain age, who can forget the coal chute, whose door is visible behind the crib.)

We all know, as we age, priorities begin to change, often due to circumstances we couldn’t anticipate; often because our perspectives change.

Anybody whose life begins to approach old age is reminded of this when more and more frequently we attend someone’s funeral, or visit someone we know in a Nursing Home. To paraphrase the Bible phrase Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15, Weddings are replaced by Baptisms are replaced by Graduations are replaced by Weddings…. For everything there is a season. Fall is as certain as Winter, as is Spring and then Summer.

Last Saturday, at another reunion of former colleagues from the ever-more distant olden days of work with the Minnesota Education Association (1972-2000), an early must-do was to read a partial list of colleagues who had departed this life. It is an ever longer list. Each name, as read, brought back memories to all of us in attendance.

John reads the roll of departed colleagues, August 17, 2013

John reads the roll of departed colleagues, August 17, 2013

We were all young, once.

Enroute home on Wednesday, an unexpected detour on the freeway gave me an opportunity to stop in and visit a retired minister I’ve known and been good friends with for the last ten or so years.

Till very recently he, another friend and I have had a long-standing date, once a month, to meet for coffee and conversation.

Earlier this summer, William collapsed in Church, ending up in a convalescent facility.

Yesterday, I stopped to visit him there, and he’d been transferred to an assisted living facility, so I traveled a few more miles to visit him there. Returning home seems not an option for him any more.

Three short months ago, William and his wife had certain routines. He’s well into his 80s, now, so they knew the odds of change increased every day.

But we never like to anticipate the winter of our lives, whose evidence I increasingly see at funerals and memorials for people that I know.

Had Barbara lived, earlier this summer we might have celebrated our 50th anniversary. Such possibility was not to be.

“Lord willing”, as Dad would say, my 75th birthday is not far in the future. Wednesday night came a call that my once-young Uncle Vince is hospitalized once again. He’s made it to 88, but the slope is ever more slippery. At some point, reality becomes undeniable.

The family script mitigates against he or I or anyone within seeing 100, but that’s okay.

Contribute in some way to others lives today.

There may not be a tomorrow.

Happy anniversary, Tom and Jennifer.

We’re proud of you. We love you.

Barbara Sunde Bernard, June 8, 1963 - July 24, 1965

Barbara Sunde Bernard, June 8, 1963 – July 24, 1965

Dick Bernard and Barbara Sunde Wedding June 8, 1963, Valley City ND, with families.

Dick Bernard and Barbara Sunde Wedding June 8, 1963, Valley City ND, with families.

#678 – Dick Bernard: Anniversary of a Retirement

Friday, January 18th, 2013

It was thirteen years ago today, January 18, 2000, that my staff colleagues at Education Minnesota bid me adieu at my retirement after 27 years attempting to do my best to represent teachers in a collective bargaining state.

I was not yet 60 when I cleaned out my office, handed in my keys and walked out the north door at 41 Sherburne in St. Paul.

It had been long enough.

Even so, I had purposely fixed my retirement date to accommodate the statutory deadline for contract settlements that year: January 18, 2000.

My job back then was an endless series of negotiations about anything and everything: elementary teachers had differing priorities than secondary; that teacher who’d filed a grievance, or was being disciplined for something, had a difference of opinion with someone. Somebody higher up the food chain had a differing notion of “top priority” than I did….

So it went.

And negotiations was a lot better than the alternative where the game was for one person to win, against someone else who lost.

It was one of many lessons early in my staff career: if you play the game of win and lose, the winner never really wins, at least in the real sense of that term, where a worthy objective is for everybody to feel some sense of winning something. Win/Lose is really Lose/Lose…everybody loses.

We are in the midst of a long-running terrible Civil War where winning is everything; where to negotiate is to lose.

We’re seeing the sad results in our states, and in our nation’s capital, and in our interpersonal communication (or lack of same) about important issues, like the current Gun Issue, Etc.

Thirteen years is a while ago.

I brought my camera along that January 18, 2000, and someone took a few snapshots (at end of this post). Nothing fancy, but it is surprising how many memories come back:

There’s that photo of myself with the co-Presidents of Education Minnesota, Judy Schaubach and Sandra Peterson. Two years earlier rival unions, Minnesota Education Association and Minnesota Federation of Teachers, had merged after many years of conflict.

I like to feel that I played more than a tiny part in that important rapprochement, beginning in the late 1980s in northern Minnesota.

Both officers have retired. Sandra Peterson served 8 years in the Minnesota State Legislature.

Leaders don’t stop leading when they retire.

February 28, in Apple Valley, Education Minnesota’s Dakota County United Educators (Apple Valley/Rosemount) will celebrate 20 years from the beginning of serious negotiations to merge two rival local unions.

I was there, part of that. And proud of it.

There’s my boss, Larry Wicks, who many years earlier I’d practiced-teaching-on at Valley City State Teachers College. I apparently didn’t destroy him then; he’s currently Executive Director of the Ohio Education Association.

And my work colleague and friend Bob Tonra, now many years deceased, who somehow took a fancy to my Uncle’s WWII ships, the battleship USS Arizona and destroyer USS Woodworth and painstakingly made to scale models, behind me as I type this blog.

And of course, colleagues – people in the next office, across the hall, other departments, etc. Or Karen at the Good Earth in Roseville – “my” restaurant for nearly its entire existence. They gave me a free carrot cake that day….

That January 18 I finally cleared the final mess from my office and took a few photos of my work space, across the street from the State Capitol building. On my office door hung a photo from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, April, 1999, a few days after the massacre at Columbine.

That young lady in the picture is granddaughter Lindsay, then 13. She, her parents and I walked up that Cross Hill on a rainy April day, and saw the stumps of the two crosses one Dad had cut down – the ones erected by someone else to the two killers, who had killed themselves. They lived then, and now, scarce a mile from the high school….

All the memories.

Let’s all learn to truly negotiate and to compromise on even our most cherished beliefs.

Such a talent is our future. Indeed our world’s only chance for a future.

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Judy Schaubach, Dick Bernard, Sandra Peterson Jan 18, 2000

In Gallop Conference Room at Education Minnesota Jan 18, 2000

Karen Schultz and server at Good Earth, January 18, 2000

Bob Tonra with his model of the USS Arizona ca 1996

Larry Wicks (at left)

Cross Hill above Columbine High School, April 1999, granddaughter Lindsay by the crosses, late April, 1999

#611 – Dick Bernard: A couple of Union Reunions

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Friday evening, enroute home from a trip to my home state of North Dakota, I stopped at a freeway restaurant for a cup of coffee with a retired teacher friend from Anoka-Hennepin Education Association days.

Kathy gave me the below photo, and asked if I would scan it for her. It wasn’t labeled (a usual malady for photos – hint!) but we basically came to consensus that it was probably taken at the 1989 NEA Convention (New Orleans) in an expression of solidarity for the students who had occupied Tienanmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

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AHEA Delegates to NEA Convention, probably 1989 in New Orleans

It was common for these kinds of actions at union gatherings. Most of we union members and staff had a keen and sincere sense of justice. Indeed, that is why I became active as a union leader in the late 1960s, then staff member of the Minnesota teachers union (MEA/Education Minnesota) for the rest of my career.

Sunday night came another event: a retirement celebration for Lee J., a union staff colleague for many years, who said he’d been in the profession either as teacher or staff for 40 years.

It was a great celebration, with a great number of family, current and retired colleagues and friends.

Lee likely went home pleased and proud last night.

I’ve never been much of a ‘dress for success’ kind of guy, but last night I decided I needed to choose an accessory for my evening ‘ensemble’. It is below:

I don’t recall where I got the button, but occasionally it adorns me like a piece of jewelry. It is something to be proud of. (People who know me would chuckle at the ‘thug’* part. No matter. I care about Unions.)

There were the usual memories last night, spoken and unspoken. We were regaled with the never-ending “grapefruit tree” grievance which, at one point, snared me for a time though I was nowhere near the teachers district.

After the event, I recalled to Lee the time, I’m guessing it was 1984 or 1985, when he was still a teacher and local leader, that he and his family borrowed my meager apartment in Hibbing for free accommodations for a summer vacation. My place was nothing fancy, that’s for sure, but for Lee and Becky and their two young kids it worked just fine.

Today is not the best of times for Unions generally, public employee unions in particular.

It seems that working for economic and social justice is viewed as a threat.

Newt Gingrich’s infamous 100 words from 1996 includes among the 64 repulsive words, “Taxes” and “Unionized”.

(Actually, Newt’s list emphasizes 64 “optimistic and positive governing words”, and 64 “contrasting words”. He didn’t invent the language, but to this day if one looks carefully at this list of words, one can identify the theme of most every campaign for or against…. These days, these words are called ‘dog whistle’ words – you are either supposed to have reverence for, or be repulsed by certain words. Much like a Pavlov’s dog reaction. It is not healthy for us as a society.)

Those who buy the nonsense of Newt’s words, especially from within the dwindling middle class, will rue the day they chose to buy the propaganda that certain words represented good, and others, evil.

It’s been 40 years since I started my union staff career, and a dozen since that career ended with my own retirement.

To Kathy and Lee and to all who have toiled in the often thankless task of seeking justice for working people, thank you.

And to the younger folks who need to take on the duties going forward, be mindful of the fact that what you now take for granted came at great cost in time and energy by people just like yourselves, too busy, but committed to justice.

What was gained, can be lost.

* – I can’t say that I know a true “union thug”. Doubtless they exist somewhere, but they’re rare. Closest call I had was once talking to a management representative who negotiated with Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters on occasion. He said Hoffa was a really decent guy, but he knew what he needed for his members, and that was that.