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Leading By Example, in the 21st Century...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time: Teaching as Learning as a Journey.

The Process of Becoming a Teacher


By Mark J Biberg


It was a process that I went through…I did not just decide one day to become a teacher. When I was young, education was not stressed. There was an idea that I should do well in school, but beyond that my parents never encouraged me to embrace education as something that would take me places. (Biberg, 22)


But I will say my older siblings and aunties did read to me. I acquired a gift and proficiency with literacy. I fell in love with reading and that has made all the difference. (Publius, letters, 3)


Two of my teachers, who also happened to be my wrestling coaches made a big difference in my life. They told me I could and should go to college; that I had a special ability to work with people and affect peoples lives. By that time I had acquired an interest in history. I could not get enough; I read voraciously everything I could get my hands on.


In hindsight I was fortunate in the teachers that I had and the people that came into my life. It is true that I was hungry to learn.  But I had structure and people willing to share with me. Now, I try to “Pay that forward”.


In time the encouragement coming from teachers and coaches started to sink in. I started to think seriously about going into teaching. It would be a few years later before I started to make this a reality; but the seeds had been planted in my consciousness.


That metaphor of planting seeds stayed with me. Many folks never knew that they were encouraging a future teacher or coach, but they did it anyway. So many people in my life gave of their time and knowledge, because they saw something in me. That is powerful and I owe something to those people.


I was not quite ready for college after high school. Some people are very mature and have direction coming out of high school; in hindsight I was not one of those people. I tried college for a year and soon it became obvious I was in the wrong place and I flunked out after my first year. I then had to do something other than return home.


The lesson: we are not always reading for where we are on the “road of life”; we either adapt and learn on the fly or we admit we need time and we say “I’ll be back!” (Remember that movie Big Fish where he got sidetracked in the strange town?)


I was walking down the street thinking about what to do and it started to rain so I ran inside the first building I came to. A man told me to “please sign-in” and I did. (It was the Marines calling me)


I was not sure what I signed, but it turns out I enlisted in the Marines and spent the next four years playing the part… training, traveling, exercising, singing cadence, meeting friends, experiencing life and seeing a variety of cultures. I also was able to do a great deal reading and thinking in my time in the Corps’.


My father, Bradley Bayard Bib erg was in the Marines in 1952-53 and his life was always a guiding light and a point of opposition. I hear his voice that says follow me and I somehow turn the other way and take my own path.


During this time I had a chance to work with a lot of young Marines from many different backgrounds in the capacity of Basic Military Skills Instructor and Mountain Driving Instructor. I was able to develop a few skills as a teacher in the Corps’. It was at this time that I planned my return to college, knowing that I wanted to teach. (Started to visualize myself as a classroom teacher).


When I returned to college (BSU in Minnesota) in 1994 after four years in the Marines- I was ready for college, and it went much better. I had the self-discipline of a Marine and the determination that I would not fail a second time. I was going to study history and give it all I had. (Bib erg, Letters to Sons, intro)


I was very fortunate to have two of the best history professors that BSU had to offer: Dr. Art Lee and Professor Gerry Schnabel. These two master teachers did more to shape and direct my study of history than they will ever know.


It was a time of growth and maturation. It was a process of learning to study history, going through the gauntlet of getting an education, and most importantly it was a time of learning about myself.


My time in college (after the Marines) was one of the most positive and dynamic times of my life (the best of times). I do not know what else I may have been destined to do with my life, but my decision to go into teaching has been the right one for me.


One lesson I must remember is that a couple of teachers saw something in me that I did not see in myself and they encouraged me to go into teaching. I think now it is time for me to give that same encouragement to the young people in my “sphere of influence”. (To pay it forward)



I will be watching...and encouraging students with the same sense of empathy and belief that my mentors had in me. I have traveled many miles in my time and have left a few footprints; I want to share the lessons of my journey with others. Teaching and writing provide me with that platform.


Now the question is what comes next? Alaska has been good to me in terms of opportunity and growth. It has allowed me to come into my own.


However, after the election of 2016, and the 2016-17 school year, my goal is to start a new chapter in my life.  That will likely mean that my Alaska Odyssey may be coming to an end, and it means a new journey will be begin. (If we are not growing we succumb to atrophy).


Life is short; we must keep moving. Life involves risks. The Marines, teaching in Alaska, and being a citizen of the world has allowed me to build a foundation for growth and evolution. Teaching and Learning provides the structure and means to do that.


This is the end of one chapter in my teaching career, but if history and human nature are any guide, it will not be the last.

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Comment by Mark J Biberg on October 3, 2016 at 10:53pm

I like to think I knew as early as 14 or 15, not for sure, but there were hints. I must say that the credit may lie with others: those coaches and teachers that saw in me something I did not see in myself.

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