By Noah Goldfarb
The room smells of home baked food. A classroom full of silent, wide-eyed children watch a man in a polo shirt standing in front of a SMART board. His booming voice echoes through the class, telling the story of his grandmother’s World War II experiences that has been passed through the generations of his family. He is focused, and he makes eye contact with each student in the class, helping them connect to history, making them feel what his grandmother went through almost a century ago. Mr. Joel Bernstein’s personal devotion to his subject is what makes him a beloved teacher at Holliston High School (HHS).
Mr. Bernstein described his mother as a history buff, and many times his teachings related history to his own life and those of his own family. His grandmother was both a single mother and a teacher who experienced the horrors of the Great Depression and World War II. The experiences that she lived through became the basis of many of Mr. Bernstein’s lessons.
His mother made him realize that today’s news is literally tomorrow’s history. She influenced him to love history and today, Mr. Bernstein is doing the same for his students.
This year will mark Mr. Bernstein’s 20th year working at HHS. Although his true love is teaching history, he was previously the Dean of Students at HHS for 14 years. After time in an administrative position, Mr. Bernstein decided that he should finally become a history teacher, a desire that he picked up from one of his own teachers.
“I was inspired by my 8th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Meeker,” said Mr. Bernstein. When asked if he ever had a desire to teach another subject his response was, “No, it was always history.” His favorite class to teach is US History II, because he loves “to teach the modern era.”
Mr. Bernstein lived in various locations along the South Shore during his childhood, but when he started a family with his wife, they decided to settle down in Franklin, MA. He is approaching his 15th wedding anniversary with his wife, who is a middle school guidance counselor. He has an eleven-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. They are both very active and great kids, who love playing sports and play musical instruments.
Mr. Bernstein also enjoyed sports as a kid, playing soccer, baseball, and basketball. He was also in the school band, and his instrument of choice was a baritone horn.
Mr. Gregory White, a fellow history teacher at HHS and a friend of Bernstein’s for 21 years, described him as being “patient and level-headed.”
Even though Mr. Bernstein may look intimidating standing over six feet tall, he has quickly become known as a gentle giant to all of his students. His students cannot help but notice how patient and helpful he is as a teacher.
Sophomore, Meghan Holland said although she struggles with the subject, Mr. Bernstein “made history enjoyable. He always had a smile on his face and he made me happy to learn.”
Mr. White explained how Mr. Bernstein is often too trusting, and almost never yells. “I have only heard him yell once,” said Mr. White, “I was scared. And so were the students.”
Sophomore, Carrie Gillespie had only one piece of advice for students that are going to take his class for the first time. “Do not ever take advantage of that man. Don’t mess with that guy. He will destroy you.”
One of Mr. White’s favorite memories of Mr. Bernstein was “when he pushed me out of a white water raft. And then, he refused to save me.” He then stated with a laugh that he has forgiven Mr. Bernstein, but he has never forgotten.
Mr. Bernstein has always enjoyed traveling, and even took a cross-country trip for his honeymoon. He did this because he realized he was going to start a family and he would probably never get the opportunity again.
Working with teenagers has always been Mr. Bernstein’s calling, and one of his favorite parts of teaching is that “Aha!” moment, where a student understands a topic. He also says that one of his favorite parts of teaching is handing out diplomas to the students that he has seen grow and change.
Mr. White predicted that in 15 years, he envisions “Mr. Bernstein on the Cape in a beach chair either near the ocean or by a lake, reading. That is, if there isn’t a Red Sox game.”
But for now, Mr. Bernstein’s booming voice fills the hallways of HHS with fascinating stories, just as it has for the past 20 years.