Congratulating Jeffrey Bernstein on his Retirement!
May 25, 2021
Αfter twenty years working at Village School, social studies teacher Jeffrey Bernstein has decided to retire. While shocking to staff and students, we all knew to trust and support his decision. Like the thoughtful, empathetic, and wise person he is, his impact as a teacher will forever remain a part of Village and the students he taught.
What made you choose to become a teacher? What were you doing before?
“I was a history major as an undergraduate and my choices upon graduation were going into teaching, which would have required more academic study, or becoming a taxi driver. My mother, aunts, and parents friends were all teachers, so that was attractive to me but I really didn’t want more school. Luckily, a new graduate program that was short, practical, and offering scholarship money presented itself and I applied, was accepted, and graduated with a Masters in Computer Systems a year later. It was a great program that focused on how computers could be used to help society, and it met my need to feel like I was doing something to make the world a better place. I then went to work for a variety of companies over the next 25+ years, rising to Executive Vice President and Senior Technical Officer for a multimillion-dollar software consulting firm. Over time, I got less and less satisfaction from my job and felt a need to leave the corporate world. That led me back to the idea of teaching. I went back to school, got the credits I needed, and began to look for a teaching position. I found one that was perfect and I have loved it for the past 20 years.”
Why decide now to retire?
“It has not been an easy decision, but there are a number of factors. I have a new grandchild, I would like to travel off-season while I still can, I’m getting older, and I’ve reached an important milestone in the pension system. None of these things by themselves would have been enough, but when I added them up I felt that now was the right time.”
What personal projects await after retiring?
“Years of saying I’ll get to that when summer comes, and never do! I’m not worried about staying busy, although other than cleaning up my office at home and travel I have no specific projects in mind. I look forward to continuing to learn new things through constantly exploring the world both in-person and online.”
What will be your final words of wisdom to share?
“There are so many cliches that are powerful and true. Find something you are passionate about and make it your career and you will always enjoy your work. Care about others and make the world a more caring place, and always try to minimize strife and maximize understanding, all of which leads to greater happiness. Always try to understand why someone feels the way they do before trying to talk about why you might disagree. Listen more, speak less. Finally, appreciate all you have and never forget that there is always someone who is worse off. Always be grateful.”
Of course, a tribute to Jeff and his career would not be complete without words from staff and students:
What special memory do you have with Jeff?
“The one that really stands out for me is when we went out to dinner for Anita’s (former resource room teacher) retirement dinner. Jeff and I hugged, and I told him how happy I am that he came to Village. He got emotional and told me how happy he is to be there. That moment started a brotherhood that will go on forever. It might not sound like much, but it brought our relationship to the place it has been ever since – a relationship that I treasure.” – Stephen Goldberg
“I cannot say I have one particular memory since it has been so many years, but when we used to go out just before the Christmas break we were always among the last to go home. Sandy and Gary would join us- it was always a good time. Also when he dressed up as a clown on Halloween.” – Ronni Graf
“When I told Jeff I liked “Outlander,” and he showed up the next day with the audiobook of the entire series for me.” – Halina Panariello
“The day my husband and I were having our baby shower for my first child, Leila, there was a massive snowstorm. Many people who didn’t live in Long Beach were unable to make the trek in blizzard conditions. But Jeff and his wife, Sandy, were not deterred! They avoided the unsafe roads by taking the train and even more, they had plans in NYC later that evening! (They never stop!) I’ll always remember being so touched that they made the extra effort to come when it certainly was acceptable not to. But that’s Jeff- he is one of the most dedicated, genuine, and thoughtful friends anyone could ask for. ” – Lauren Sullivan
What elective or class with Jeff did you most like?
Student responses: World After the War, Government, Global 10, Economics, Media Literacy & World between Wars
What personality trait of his did you most admire?
“His sincerity. When Jeff speaks and acts, you can always be assured that he means what he says and does. He is not motivated by ego, pride, or clout– he is all about empathy, kindness, and support.” – Lauren Sullivan
“His relentlessness. Jeff never gives up. Everything he begins, he finishes. Every time you ask him for help, he will think of everything humanly possible to help. If you ask him for advice, he will tell you what he knows and then come back the next day with more advice. If you ask him for a favor, he will go above and beyond to come through for you. If he spots a problem, he won’t stop until he sees the problem corrected. What a mensch!” – Halina Panariello
“Only one? Jeff is generous. He is giving. His happiness comes from making others happy. He wants to help and be a part of making people’s lives better. As a result, he has touched the lives of MANY. And MANY love him dearly.” – Stephen Goldberg
“Jeff is truly a genuine person. You can feel the depth of his knowledge when he speaks about history or his past. You can tell by the way he speaks to people that he comes from a place of caring, and a place of wanting what is best for them. I love that he is not afraid of some healthy discourse, and is not afraid to speak his mind whether it is about the Islanders, politics, or Credit Boards. He is a fierce advocate for students, but a firm believer in earning credit. I wish I had more than just five years working with Jeff! I have learned so much from him in these brief five years, and wish him all of the happiness in retirement. Village School will not be the same without him here.” – Megan Wilvert
“I like how he tells the students to question everything.” – Ronni Graf
What traits or teaching style made him different from all the teachers?
“Jeff never goes off-topic and always on track, whenever students ask a question he tries to answer it to the best of his ability.”
“He was an interactive, interesting teacher that made learning about history more enjoyable for me.”
“The way he was able to incorporate outside articles and stuff to help get a basis on the timeline instead of just watching movies all the time.”
“He challenged our answers.”
“Really pushed me to improve my writing.”
“He teaches about topics or places in history that most common American schools wouldn’t. You are able to use what you learned and apply it to current real-life situations and politics.”
What is a “motto” he often referenced, or a value he often embodied/promoted?
“People aren’t rational, they are emotional.” – Halina Panariello
“In meetings, in classes, in casual conversations, Jeff is the person who kindly replies, “Well, not necessarily….” as an introduction to offering an opposing or alternative viewpoint. Even when he is completely countering what someone else just said, he does it in such a well-meaning and intelligent way that it never breeds aggression– just more thoughtful discourse. I really appreciate that.” – Lauren Sullivan
“‘You don’t deserve credit, you EARN it.’ Jeff lives by his own motto as he EARNS the love and respect of all those around him.” – Stephen Goldberg
“Who is going to argue with me at Credit Boards?” – Ronni Graf
Do you have any further sentiments you’d like to share?
“Jeff is a great teacher. It’s sad that he has to leave us but I wish him the best.”
“He pushes us because he cares and I appreciate that.”
“Jeff is my advisor and I was so glad and fortunate enough to have him. I couldn’t have asked for a better advisor. He always made me and my parents smile, and he always made me feel I was doing so much better than I thought I was. He supported me all throughout the time I’ve been at Village for. I am so thankful for him and I loved having him as a teacher. I am sad he won’t be able to be here for my senior year, and I will miss him so much, but I wish him all the best and I feel so lucky to even had been able to made these experiences with him at all.”
How will Village School be different without him?
“When Jeff leaves, a great source of wisdom will be leaving as well. He has the unique ability to see the role of educator from all sides. This enables him to be essential when decisions need to be made. I have leaned on him for 20 years. When he goes, that will surely be different around Village School. That doesn’t mean that Village will fall apart. On the contrary, so much of what Jeff has brought to us will remain as we look to the future.”- Stephen Goldberg
“Village will, as it always has, continue to thrive. But Jeff provides us with such sage advice, perspective, and wisdom… it will be different without his insights and will take us some time to re-build that.” – Lauren Sullivan
“No one to correct my Infinite Campus mistakes. No students yelling out “Jeff!!!” by his classroom. No one to say “the only problem with that is…” when we all think we have a brilliant idea. No one to debate Steve at lunch. No one to make me cry at Thanksgiving.”- Halina Panariello
“I am not getting mushy here but we have worked together so long, so many special moments shared- so many milestones. I am happy to have worked with him for so many years- this place will be so different without him. Jeff and I started the same year (along with Sam) it will be very strange for me next year.” – Ronni Graf
What are words you’ve never told him before, you wish to say now?
“Thank you for making me see so many issues from a different perspective. I am hugely a different (and better) person because of all the things you made me reflect on through the years. You have a way of explaining things that always leaves me wanting to learn and research more. Thank you for always making me feel comfortable to walk into your room at any moment of the day and ask for help. It seems like you know the answer to every question. I wish I had just one person in my family that was like you!” – Halina Panariello
“I hope I have said this – or communicated it in other ways, at least: I am so very grateful to have had you not just as a mentor and colleague but as a friend for the last decade. You are unlike anyone else I know; I am so grateful for you!” – Lauren Sullivan
“Jeff knows how much I love him. He knows how valuable he has been for so long. He knows he will be missed terribly. But I just want him to know that he will always be a part of my life, whether he is a teacher at Village or not. Jeff is one of those people one should never say goodbye to. And so I don’t plan on ever saying goodbye to him!” – Stephen Goldberg