Home economics teacher and literacy coach retires with fond memories

Jane Bernauer is retiring after 30 years of working with students and teachers.

COM_Bernauer4Bernauer earned a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from St. Catherine University in 1975. She completed her master of arts degree in education at the University of Minnesota in 1983. She also finished a reading licensure program at the University of Minnesota in 2010.

Starting in 1975, she taught home economics in the high school.

Bernauer with family and consumer sciences students.
Bernauer with family and consumer sciences students.

One class was bachelor living for sophomore boys. It included the basic life skills of budgeting, money management, food preparation and laundry.

This was a good fit for Bernauer, who said she got into home economics for the financial literacy and consumer economics aspects. Financial literacy back then was taught in several subjects, she said: family and consumer science, business, social studies.

After 14 years at the high school, Bernauer took a leave to explore her interests in consumer economics, decision making and customer service.

At National Car Rental, she was a team leader—the person the sales reps called if customers said, “Let me talk to your manager.”

She had a similar job as consumer affairs person for the Land O’ Lakes catalog, through which customers could order products by redeeming points. “If they had trouble with it, they called me.” In addition to collecting data, preparing reports and giving feedback to managers, she said, “I got to talk to people all over the country.”

As the insurance supervisor for a group of health clinics, she helped people understand their insurance coverage and bills.

All three jobs required strong people skills, starting with calming someone who was upset in order to get the problem resolved. Bernauer calls this “de-escalating people” and says it is also part of working with kids.

“It served me well in teaching,” she said. “When kids are acting out, there’s usually some need they’re trying to get fulfilled. When a person is angry, move back to the information, get them to a comfortable place, establish a caring connection.”

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Jane Bernauer in a photo from the 1980s.

A family and consumer science opening at Southwest Junior High brought her back from leave.

She taught there for 12 years, and then took the opportunity to teach other teachers as a Q-Comp instructional coach.

She observed teachers, from early childhood to high school, and gave feedback; her observations affected the amount of extra pay they received. The 12 teachers involved were given special training.

“I learned so much,” Bernauer said. “I’ve gotten amazing opportunities because of the staff development we had.”

For many reasons, she said, the controversial Q-Comp program lasted only two years.

After that Bernauer was a district-wide curriculum coordinator for one year, but lost that job when cuts were made.

While she was working in Q-Comp, she got a literacy certification for all ages, preschool to adult.

That opened the door for her to become a district-wide literacy coach for a year.

“We offered a literacy course for teachers that involved classes and coaching sessions. I would help them apply what they learned in class, such as asking higher-level questions, getting students actively involved, having a book group.”

She wanted to stay in literacy and got chance to do that last year as a reading specialist in the Stillwater school district, at Oak Park Heights Elementary. She took a leave from Forest Lake to do this.

This year she is retired, although her official end date was Dec. 4.

How will she be remembered?

“I hope people saw me as an encourager,” Bernauer said. “When you’re trying to read something you don’t get, emotion can get in the way. I would find a way to engage the person so they can move ahead.”

Bernauer said part of the job is to teach kids to get along with other people. “I taught respect and responsibility every day I taught,” she said.

“I’m a conciliatory person, but I had to be strict about some things: showing respect, safety, and being responsible for yourself are non-negotiable.”

“I love logical consequences,” she added. “That also served me well as a parent.”

Bernauer is grateful for getting to observe hundreds of teachers over many years.

She also spent time with a fair number of students. At the junior high, for example, she said she taught 150 students per semester. “I can see somebody and not remember their name, but I remember what their handwriting looks like,” she quipped.

One of the changes in education over the years, she said, is the role of the teacher. “When I was in school, the teacher was the dispenser of knowledge. Now kids have the information literally at their fingertips.”

“We have to find ways to engage them and teach them to be critical of all the information they consume.”

“Teachers are told now to use all the information they get to help each student: test scores, pretest information. We really focus now on the individual, meeting kids where they are.”

“We are more accessible: Teachers have e-mail, web pages, grade books on line. It’s another whole forum for teachers to put themselves into.”

As an example of how technology has changed our lives, Bernauer said she uses YouTube videos to learn sewing techniques. “School is a microcosm of what is on the outside.”

On the other hand, kids haven’t changed in their basic needs. “Kids still want to fit in, belong, have their ideas valued,” she said.

What plans does Bernauer have for retirement?

In September of this year, she traveled to Africa with her 85-year-old mother.

On safari, she said, “Mom sat next to the driver while we sat in the back. They teased her about being a tour guide in training.”

Now Bernauer will have time for family and friends. “I’m so excited about being home during daylight, with energy! I will volunteer, but not this first year,” she said.

Bernauer said her husband, who taught English at the high school, retired nine years ago.

And her mom? “She’s going to Israel in January!” Bernauer said.