COMAL COUNTY, Texas — A Canyon High School teacher is taking no chances as he returns to the classroom next week.
The evidence is in a picture showing a plastic “bubble” around his desk, but there’s much more to the story.
“There's a real person who cares behind it, but realizes this is an oddity,” said George Berry, a physics teacher at Canyon High School.
The Comal ISD employee won’t let the pandemic keep him from showing up for his students.
“What I plan to do every minute I can is to honor God,” Berry said. “The way for me to honor my maker is to be here helping kids until I can't do that anymore.”
The photo, shared with Berry’s friends and family, shows sheets of plastic, some duct tape and a sign that starts the conversation. It reads, "I want to survive and see you thrive."
The man inside that plastic bubble has been with Comal ISD for a decade, and an educator for 27 years.
His teaching style is to sprinkle lectures with real-world examples and true stories.
“If I tell you the composition of friction between two surfaces, you glaze over,” Berry said. “But if you learn how to save your life, then maybe that helps. I think that a story helps you remember it better.”
He plans to stay in the classroom as long as he’s making a difference.
“At the end of the year, I stop the class and I go, 'We have to make a decision together. The decision is whether I come back next year and you guys get to vote. If I have had a huge impact in your life, if I have changed your life, then that's a yes,'" Berry said. “If a large number of people don't tell me that I've had a huge impact, then I can go do something else.”
Results of the annual vote are evident. Berry’s impact has been so great that many students stay in touch; some even ask him to officiate their weddings.
“I know that what I'm doing is working,” he said. “I don't know why it works but I know I'm having an impact in a lot of kids’ lives.”
As the start of a new school year approaches during a pandemic, health is now a dominating concern.
“The community made a decision (that) we're going to come back to school. I don't look back at that question at all. The question is, how can we make it safe for kids? How do we make it safe for us and how can we do it in a way that encourages kids?" Berry said. “What I've done is spend time building the bubble then taking care of one thing at a time. As long as I keep moving one step at a time, I'm going to get there.”
Berry has battled cancer in the past and has some conditions that make him more susceptible to the coronavirus. Ironically, his health journey, as well as that of his father’s, are an example in the day one message to his students.
When Berry’s father was faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis and given 1,000 days to live, the teacher watched his dad make an important choice to enjoy his remaining time on earth and fill it with as many memories and good experiences as possible.
He shares the story with students and has the teens reflect on their own decision.
“I have 180 days to spend with you in this classroom and, depending on your attitude, it'll be the best or the worst 180 days of your life,” Berry tells his students. “If you want to be here, this will be amazing. But if you don't, there’s nothing I can do. So let's get started.”
This year will be different for the entire district. Some students will show up in person on August 25 while others join the class from home.
“If your kid is coming to school, I guarantee that every teacher is doing everything they can to make it an amazing experience for them,” Berry said. “From the pre-K kid who's walking into their first class, to a senior who's walking into their last, we love your kids and want to be here.”
There are new programs and protocols to learn but Berry encourages all teachers, parents and students to take things one step at a time. He also recommends looking for the silver lining.
“Everybody comes in and it's like, 'Oh my gosh, you're teaching in a bubble.' I go, 'Yes, it is a control center. I'll do my videos (and) from there I can see the classroom. I could see clearly through (the plastic), it's wonderful. It actually turns out to be a better place to teach,” Berry said. “I know that this may be overboard by a long way, but...if I survive until next year, then it was perfect.”
Comal ISD starts in-person and virtual learning on Tuesday, August 25.