Verona: A ‘dream’ comes to an end
For Kevin Hoffman, teaching in the Verona Area School District was a “dream job.”
He had known it since his senior year in high school in 1975. It’s the same high school he will retire from at the end of this year after 24 years.
The Verona Area High School agriculture teacher, who is also heavily involved as an advisor for Future Farmers of America, began his teaching career in Barneveld, where he spent nine years before receiving the chance he wanted to return to his hometown.
“It was surreal,” Hoffman said. “Hopefully I made a difference in some peoples’ lives positively.”
Science teacher Ann Moffat, physical education teacher Dan Bergsbaken and English teacher Susan Jane Watson join Hoffman to create a void of 91 years of VASD experience heading into next year at the high school.
VAHS principal Pam Hammen cited the student relationships, both personal and on a level of developing long-term interests, the teachers have built in their careers at the school as something that will be sorely missed.
“When I think of each of these teachers, I think of the positive relationships they’ve developed with students, whether they’re in their classes or maybe not even in their classes and how those relationships will impact those students even after they leave Verona Area High School,” Hammen said Tuesday. “Sometimes we as educators may not fully realize in the moment the impact those relationships have, and how powerful they can be.”
Moffat and Watson
Moffat, who teaches Advanced Placement classes in Physics and Chemistry and began using a “flipped classroom” model last year to “really good results,” said a number of factors made this year the right time for her to retire after 20 years in the district and 30 years of teaching overall.
“There are some things coming down the road that I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh how am I going to do that?’” Moffat said, mentioning personalized learning and other new ideas spreading through the education world. “I’ve got the time, I’ve got the years in, I’m at a place in my life where I’m ready to take another risk and test something new or different.”
She recalled beginning her time at VAHS as the only woman on the science staff, and now seeing so many staff members that there are some she doesn’t even know.
Watson mentioned the school’s growth in her 29 years as a major change as well, one that brought both positives and negatives.
“I felt like I knew the entire district staff, K-12,” Watson said, recalling meetings in the Sugar Creek step room that fit all of them when she began teaching here.
But the growth has helped the community embrace the arts, something she appreciated as an English teacher, and has created an “amazing community to teach in.”
She said she kept her enthusiasm for the job because of discussions among her students during class where she could see their passions and interests come out.
“That helps me feel like I’m alive,” she said. “I went home at the end of the day and thought, ‘Wow what a great day.’”
Moffat said she enjoyed seeing her students find success, especially seeing them step out of their comfort zone and work in programs like that in which her physics students taught elementary school students on the subject.
“I’ve been really blessed in that the classes that I’ve taught are elective classes, so I get the kids that want to be there,” she said. “I just get a kick out of sharing the stuff with them.”
Bergsbaken held a few different roles around the district in his time, beginning as a substitute teacher in the early 1990s.
He later became the building sub for VAHS, and then moved to working one-on-one with a struggling student before being placed with the “at risk” students in the school’s VIP program. When that program began to change a few years ago, he was offered a chance to return to his physical education roots – he had started his career as a phy ed teacher in Madison schools.
“Just put somebody in a physical arena where they’ve got to compete and produce, not only individually but with a team, and that’s the best way to get to know somebody’s heart and soul,” Bergsbaken said of his draw to phy ed.
The 62-year-old said he will miss the students the most, especially hearing words of praise from them.
“The coolest thing I heard one time, because I had (a student’s) brother and helped him through some tough times, (the student) said to me, ‘Mr. B you’re my favorite teacher and I never had you,’” he said. “That beats any plaque or whatever somebody wants to hand you ever, words from kids like that. You can’t buy that stuff.”
Once a teacher...
Each of the four teachers has some relaxation in their plans, and most will find a way to continue educating others.
Watson plans to open a pilates studio, something she’s always enjoyed teaching. Moffat hopes to help supervise student teachers, tutor, work with the Boys and Girls Club and find other ways to be involved with children between traveling with her husband.
Hoffman will continue some of his work with FFA, specifically in serving at the FFA alumni vice president for another year. Bergsbaken will move to northern Wisconsin and has a goal “to get sick of fishing and hunting. That’s it.”
But Hoffman, who recalled a vacation in 1984 and “maybe one since then,” looks forward to a small change from the 24-year routine he’s developed of taking care of the animals and his other duties at the school, whether on an average Tuesday during the school year or Christmas morning.
“I’d like to see what it’s like not to come to school for a day,” Hoffman said with a laugh.