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Retirement As An Art Form PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Mitch Maersch   
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 20:09

Dave Bernander is no exception to the common practice of delving into hobbies and doing exactly what he wants in retirement.

It’s just in Bernander’s case, he wanted to return to work.

After teaching art for 20 years and serving as an assistant principal for 20 more — mostly at Port Washington High school — Bernander called it a career a couple of years ago.

But only partly.

ARTThe Town of Belgium resident still had an itch to scratch, so he started subbing at different grade levels in a variety of subjects.

“I really missed being in the school environment,” Bernander said.

Then he got a call to be a long-term sub at Green Tree Elementary School in West Bend. For an entire year, Bernander’s day started with fourth-graders and ended with kindergartners.

“It was the time of my life. I couldn’t believe it,” Bernander said. “I thought I was in heaven.”

Young art students, he said, are brave.

“Kids are so uninhibited at that age,” he said. “They can draw anything. They can paint anything.”

While Bernander likes to paint with watercolors and acrylics and draw with pencils, his elementary experience made him so fond of crayons he got a Crayola tattoo on his arm.

Teaching at that level was, however, an adjustment, after working in the high school environment for 35 years.

“I worked hard, though,” Bernander said. “You quickly learn they have really short attention spans. And you never take your eyes off of them.”

After that stint, Bernander got a call from Port High Principal Eric Burke, who was looking to fill a part-time art position this year.

The next thing Bernander knew, he was teaching two pottery classes.

“Dave has a genuine interest in students and art. He is a very caring and compassionate educator,” Burke said.

It was a perfect since pottery was one of Bernander’s passions in high school.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The kids are really fascinated with the clay process.”

The staff welcomed Bernander’s expertise.

“Dave Bernander brings experience from a long dedication to the field of education,” art department chair Katie Feyereisen said. “He brings knowledge from a unique place which is administration.”

Bernander said he enjoys being able to work on long-term projects, since high-schoolers have longer attention spans.

“We can discuss ideas about making cylindrical vases for a good amount of time,” he said, which can be followed by viewing different vases online and then starting the process to make them.

Feyereisen said Bernander has fit in well with the dedicated staff.

“To get kids into the art room producing from their heart and soul is what we’re all about, Dave included,” she said. “It’s so important to have a creative outlet for teenagers at a time when they’re stressed with school work, social life and where they fit into society.”

Bernander said art can help teach children and teenagers important life skills.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for developing work habits,” he said. “And developing confidence is a big thing.”

When elementary school students reach middle school, Bernander said, they realize their artwork may not be masterpieces.

“I always tell the kids that we’re not doing a drawing of the person; we’re doing a drawing from a person,” he said.

Regardless of grade level, or if it’s 1977 or 2017, Bernander said teaching comes down to one thing.

“I’ve said this all the time while I was teaching: To do well with teaching and the kids, you’ve got to relate to the kids. It’s all about rapport,” he said.

Bernander has a technique to build relationships.

“It’s a matter of being respectful to the kids, being kind to the kids,” he said.

Technology, he said, has changed the classroom. In art, it allows for many more resources for inspiration and examination.

“‘Look at the texture on that one!’” Bernander told his students and he scrolls through images on the Internet.

He tells students who have hit a wall to check websites for ideas.

“On Pinterest, you could spend the next week and you’ll never hit the same image,” he said.

Years ago, Bernander was limited to a few books, his own creative mind and an occasional film he could rent for a couple of weeks.

This summer, Bernander is scheduled to spend a couple of weeks teaching students two different kinds of art. He is running a class in which students make and play ukeleles.

Bernander’s father taught him to play when he was 5, and he picked it back up a decade ago. In looking to upgrade to a better model, he got the idea to make his own. He orders kits and so far has built 10 himself.

Students first are taught how to make the instruments, which includes artistic designs. Then Bernander teaches them a few chords and tells them to check out instructional videos online to advance their expertise.

A career in education was a good fit for Bernander, a Pardeeville native whose mother was a teacher. In high school, Bernander enjoyed art classes, played trombone and football.

He earned an art education degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and taught K-12 art at a small school near New Glarus for five years before teaching high school art for 15 at Algoma.

“I just always really enjoyed showing people how to do things,” he said.

In that time, Bernander earned a degree in educational administration degree from UW-Milwaukee so he could be an arts advocate from the administrative side.

He worked as assistant principal in Wilmot for three years before the next 17 in Port.

“Education has been really good to me for 45 years,” he said.

While his time as an art teacher at Port High is coming to a close, Bernander, a father of four grown children and married to an education professor at UW-Oshkosh, looks forward to his next venture.

“Just see what happens. That’s one of the joys of retirement, too,” he said.


Photo Information: Former assistant principal Dave Bernander has enjoyed teaching two pottery classes this year at Port Washington High School. From left are students Grace Dimmer, Lizzy Karrles, Emma Delie, Natalie Benning and Roisin Doyle.              Photo by Sam Arendt

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