Joel Bernard Wins Educator of the Year Award


Mercedes Padilla, Staff Writer and Senior Editor

This year, science teacher Joel Bernard has been selected as California League of High Schools’ Educator of the Year for Hughson High School. He was nominated by Principal Lighthall, who was impressed after observing him teach and hearing of his successes both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Not only does Mr. Bernard teach Hughson High’s anatomy and AP environmental classes, but he is also the science department chair, the track and cross country coach, and the athletic director. His hands-on teaching method keeps students engaged and empowered, and his coaching  ability has led him to become the seven-time recipient of the TVL Cross Country Coach of the Year award. Much of his success is due to the fact that Mr. Bernard ensures that he is always doing everything in his power to make sure his students and student athletes have every resource at their disposal to be successful, whether those resources are classrooms where curiosity is encouraged or discounted running shoes.   

Below is a short interview with Mr. Bernard following his most recent award as Educator of the Year.


Mercedes Padilla: How did you feel when you found out you won teacher of the year?

Mr. Bernard: I was flattered. It was nice to be recognized. I try hard, and I want to do a good job. Mr. Lighthall spends a lot of time in the classrooms and he’s seen people teach, and I was very happy that he nominated me. 


Mercedes Padilla: When did you know you wanted to become a teacher?

Mr. Bernard: When did I know I wanted to become a teacher? Probably like when I became a teacher. I didn’t initially intend to be in the high school classroom. I was initially looking to coach at the collegiate level, and I had an assistant coaching job at Stanislaus that I thought was going to lead into being able to teach a few classes there, and the classes never materialized there. I still had the assistant coaching job, but it was only like two hours a day. So I needed to find another job, and I found a job as a paraprofessional at a nonpublic school for emotionally disturbed kids. And then I found that I actually liked working with high school-aged kids, and then a job opened up here, and I applied, and I got it and I’ve been here ever since. 


Mercedes Padilla: Where did you go to college?

Mr. Bernard: I’m from the Bay Area, and I went to West Valley College. I went into the army first. I never took the SAT or anything like that. When I came out of the army, I enrolled in junior college, West Valley. I transferred to Stanislaus when I was done at the junior college, and I ran track and cross country there. And then I got a master’s degree at Utah State. 


Mercedes Padilla: When did you start coaching track and cross country here?

Mr. Bernard: I started coaching track the first year I got here, which would have been the 1998-1999 school year, so the spring of ‘99 was my first year coaching track here. And then I started the cross country team the next year. We had a girl that was really good, but we didn’t have a team. She was actually training with Riverbank, so we didn’t have a team for her, so I told the guy that was the AD (athletic director) at the time, I was like, “Hey, this is embarrassing that we have this girl that’s like one of the best in the state and she’s going to train with another school, so let me start a team.” And so they let me start a team, and we’ve had a cross country team ever since. 


Mercedes Padilla: Do you think there’s a key to coaching a successful track or cross country team?

Mr. Bernard: You have to create an environment where the kids buy into what you’re doing, the kids want to be there. If you’re just telling a kid to run, that’s not going to be very effective. You have to do something to create the desire to actually run and train because I know kids can go out and sit under a bush for half an hour and then come back and pretend that they ran. And I tell them that I know they can do that, and nobody chooses to do that, because over the years, and I don’t know how it happened—I wish I did, I’d sell my secrets—we’ve managed to build this program where everybody’s really supportive of one another and everybody pushes each other to be better, and so it’s that teammate support, I think, that gets the kids to buy-in. Like, when they’re freshmen, and they see the seniors, and the seniors talk to them, and the seniors support them, and the seniors build them up, those freshmen then end up wanting to stay with the program and be good themselves. So that’s kind of I think where we’ve been.


Mercedes Padilla: What do you think is the most challenging thing is for you as an educator or coach?

Mr. Bernard: Right now, the most challenging thing is my schedule. I have three or four different hats that I wear and transitioning from one to the other to the other and back to the first again is pretty challenging. Honestly, there’s nothing about the kids that I teach or that I coach that’s challenging. I’m really lucky to have really great kids come out for my teams, and just like motivated kids want to be in my classes, so honestly, with that there’s no challenge. It’s just that I’ve taken on a lot of responsibilities and that’s a challenge. 


Mercedes Padilla: In that same kind of line of questioning, what do you find most rewarding about coaching or teaching?

Mr. Bernard: It’s going to sound super cliche, but the opportunity to [see] like that lightbulb moment, when you see a kid go, “Ah!” The lightbulb goes on over their head and they get it, and whether that’s like a lightbulb moment with an academic concept or you see a kid for the first time figure out how to push themselves in a race or something like that, when you see that improvement, you see the result of like what you’ve been trying to get the kid to do, and they actually are able to do it or they actually are able to learn it, that’s super gratifying.