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Polson instructor earns national science teaching award

POLSON — Polson Middle School fifth grade teacher Charles Bertsch was one of two Montana teachers to win a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Bertsch received $10,000 to use as he desires and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. the week of Jan.4 through 8. 

“The conference was actually pretty helpful,” Bertsch said. “It gave you a perspective on the direction education is headed, particularly back east.”

Bertsch said the model would be all inclusion and self-contained classrooms. Leveling and tracking, methods that divide children by ability, are disappearing Bertsch said.

Really small classes were the also part of the new trend. Bertsch spoke with a New York teacher who teaches first and second grade and has 10 kids in her classroom. She also has all her students for two years. The biggest class in her school is 14 kids.

Some schools are also reducing the number of instructional aides and are hiring only teachers.

The part of the conference Bertsch found most enjoyable was talking to other educators, who shared ideas.

Bertsch said a thing that he “found surprising and too bad” was that too few males are elementary school teachers; there were only three males in the 41 science teachers at the conference. Out of the entire group of both science and math teachers, there were no minorities either, Bertsch said. 

The group of honorees attended a White House reception with President Obama. Bertsch found the president personable, likeable and “comfortable with us.”

“President Obama is definitely very articulate and very smart,” Bertsch said. 

President Obama spoke to the science and math teachers about his “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which Obama described as “a nationwide effort by citizens, non-for-profit, universities and companies from across America to help us to the top of the pack in math and science education.”

Bertsch said the educators also met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

After the conference was over, Bertsch and his wife Bobette had time to visit some Washington, D.C. landmarks. 

“The neatest place there by far was the Library of Congress,” Bertsch said. 

The amount of work, paintings, mosaics and statues made it “the nicest building I’ve been in and incredibly beautiful,” Bertsch said.

Another spot Bertsch enjoyed visiting was the National Cathedral in Georgetown. The Episcopal Cathedral took around 80 years to build and was funded solely by donations Bertsch said. President Woodrow Wilson is buried at the cathedral as is Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Bertsch also paid a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and “looked at names of people I grew up with up.”

After all the sights in Washington, D.C., Bertsch is back in his classroom at PMS, doing what he does so well — teaching fifth graders.

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