BRECKSVILLE, OH — Bring up the subject of teaching to James Bergmann and watch out. The second-year HVACR instructor at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center (located outside of Cleveland, OH) will give you an earful, ten times over.

And, for the most part, it will be all positive and upbeat talk.

“Most people view ‘vocational kids’ as lost causes,” says Bergmann. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“If you teach kids how to learn, you’re doing your job. That’s what any instructor needs to do: teach kids how to learn. If you can do this, you’re helping a child grow and prosper — whether he/she wants to be a future doctor or an HVAC technician. The goal for any instructor is to teach a student to learn.”

To say the least, the enthusiastic instructor was proud and excited to be named a runner-up in The News’ 2002 Instructor of the Year contest. That’s saying a lot about Bergmann, who obviously made a strong impression his first year in the HVACR teaching ranks. More than a few of his former students submitted glowing remarks about the 32-year-old former service technician.

“Mr. Bergmann has taught me so much this year,” wrote student Matt Schefflor. “I walked into class for the first time and the learning just sank into me. I have never seen a teacher want to do so much for his students. If you want to learn, he will help you in any way, shape, or form.”

All eyes are on James Bergmann during a class demonstration.


In truth, teaching was Bergmann’s ultimate goal since being in the industry in one way, shape, or form for 14-plus years. He remembers helping his father (James Sr.) on service calls when he was a young tyke. The elder Bergmann, who has been a service technician for more than 27 years at Gardiner Trane (Solon, OH), obviously left a lasting impression on his son, who believes in helping others like his father did.

“My dad would always help people,” said Bergmann. “I am more out of the same mold. I’ll take care of the student’s needs first and worry about getting an income later.”

He got his degree in mechanical technology from the University of Akron two years ago, going to school part-time after getting an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1992. He was working as a service technician at Gardiner Trane when the opportunity to teach at his high school alma mater surfaced. He did not hesitate to apply, and he was hired by the school board, which included principal Rich Rybak, who was his seventh grade shop teacher.

“This [teaching] is like a dream come true,” said Bergmann, who is a 1989 graduate of Cuyahoga Valley, which has had an HVACR program for 30-plus years. “I am just so happy to be able to return to the school where I graduated and help others.”

The administration at Cuyahoga Valley will tell you that this energetic teacher has really taken the school’s HVACR program by the horns. Among other steps, Bergmann made sure to put into place an active advisory board, which next year will include a member from his first graduating class of 2002. He also actively recruits by visiting seventh grade classrooms, and he makes sure hands-on activity is matched well with real-world training. The school’s full working lab includes a “part-house,” as Bergmann put it — an area framed and built completely by students in the construction cluster. A 12-ton rooftop unit was recently installed, as well as a mini-split system. Next year a radiant floor system and a steam boiler will be installed under the supervision of members of the advisory committee.

“The curriculum is focused on teaching students ‘soft skills,’ how to make and interpret measurements, how to read and understand technical literature, and, most of all, how to access and store information for future reference,” said Bergmann. “With the large number of equipment manufacturers, it is impossible to learn it all or teach it all or remember it all in two years. But I can teach my students how to learn it all, find it all, and continue their education for the rest of their career in our industry.”


Asked about his teaching style, he responded, “New technicians have new ways of accessing information. For the most part, they are not a group of readers and some of them aren’t very good listeners, either. … My program focuses on teaching in a way that the new generation learns. I do not require my students to read a lot of information that I can show them in the lab. The reading that I do require I do out loud and primarily from trade publications.

“I try to make my classes enjoyable and teach in a fashion that the new generation will learn to love our industry as a lot of us already do,” he added. “You can give a kid a technical manual and go fix it right yourself later or teach him/her to read it, access information, understand it, and apply it and through success have a technician.

“I am teaching a generation that has to know when the learning stops, so do the increases in wages. But not only do we ‘learn to earn,’ we learn because we love what we do. I am teaching a lifestyle, a trade, and a genuine love and respect for our industry.”

Publication date: 09/09/2002