Ben Berman: More than meets the eye

Photo by Matthew Goroff

English teacher Ben Berman stood at the front of the boisterous and hectic cafeteria. He was patient and unmoving, hands clasped behind his back and a calm expression on his face. Amidst the noise and confusion, he seemed to be just a shadow, unnoticed.

As the end of lunch neared, he moved from his position and slowly, as if time was of no significance, shuffled to a trash bin, with hands still clasped behind his back. He unhurriedly but deliberately pushed the trash bin alongside the tables, softly saying only two words: “Trash, please.”

At first glance, one might not expect that this seemingly introverted teacher is a thunderous presence in the classroom who can arouse immense excitement from his students. Who he is outside the classroom is in sharp contrast to what he is like while teaching.

Berman has been at the school for three years, teaching Creative Writing to seniors and World Literature to sophomores. Before becoming an English teacher, Berman studied at the University of Pennsylvania to become a pre-medicine major. However, he became interested in English and traveling, so he dropped out of school. He studied in India, finished college and then taught for the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe.

Berman is an excitable, interesting and upbeat teacher, despite his usual calm demeanor, according to many of his students and fellow staff.

According to English Curriculum Coordinator Mary Burchenal, if you only knew Berman out of the classroom, you might not be aware of all of the greatness lurking under the surface.

“In some ways, he’s sort of reserved and quiet, so people might not know him as quickly,” Burchenal said. “We kind of joke with him about his walk because he is just so mellow.”

Once Berman gets in front of a class, there is a dynamic shift. What was once a calm, quiet man is now a bellowing, animated, fast-talking machine. He moves around the room, uses a lot of hand gestures and even acts things out for effect.

In one class as a joke, he stomped back and forth with fists clenched and face scrunched to imitate how a student once could not make up his mind in a game of Four Corners, in which students stand in corners of the room based on what extent they agree with a given statement.

In another class, he sang in what he imagined to be the voice of Vladimir Nabokov, author of the novel Lolita.

“I tend to get very excited about ideas and have a lot of energy in the classroom,” said Berman.

“He’s really enthusiastic about his work. That’s one of the best things about his teaching,” said junior Sidni Frederick. “He really likes to push kids into unknown territories.”

Berman is somewhat unsure why he tends to be a whole different person in the classroom.

“As a teacher, it’s a strange situation when you’re put in front of a class and talking all the time,” said Berman. “You sort of take on a persona.”

Berman went on to say that he can get very excited while teaching because he is talking about something he really loves.

“Very few people are willing to talk about poetry and literature outside of a classroom, so I don’t get a chance to talk about those things,” said Berman. “If we’re talking about the Patriots, I can get very excited as well.”


Alex Johnson can be contacted at [email protected]