What is it about great teachers that makes them stand out? In Mike Vergin, a commitment to knowledge about his subject matter, coupled with a sense of humility and a willingness to let students pursue their own interests is a major part of what defines him. His quiet and laid-back demeanor makes him approachable, but his students will assure you that he is incredibly passionate and extremely sharp on a wide range of subjects.
As recent graduate Pranay Somayajula '18 observes, "Mr. Vergin is by far one of the most intelligent teachers I've ever had, and it just takes one conversation with him to make that clear. That doesn't make him intimidating, though—he still puts a huge emphasis on remaining accessible and teaching in a way that doesn't go over students' heads because he cares about our learning experience more than anything else."
Vergin is an Upper School faculty member who has taught social studies at MPA for 21 years. His current classes are the two-year honors/AP world history program, world religions, government and economics, social entrepreneurship, constitutional law, and 21st century global issues. He also helps coach MPA's award-winning Debate and Speech Teams.
Over the course of his tenure, Vergin has seen MPA students show a strong interest in the world beyond their own lives. "As a community, we're particularly tuned into global issues. Our students want to know more about the world, and the more we equip them to learn and to want to learn, the better. These are life-long skills that we're instilling in them, not just the transfer of
a body of knowledge."
Vergin upholds the MPA tradition of sparking vibrant discussions in the classroom, and he credits his debate experience to making all the difference in his ability to credibly see and present both sides of an argument. He appreciates it when his students take risks by leaving their comfort zones and engaging in discussions on important but controversial topics. "Here you can disagree, you can evolve in your thinking, and you can question your original stance. This is a place where being curious and informing yourself is cool, and we hold space for the messy process that it sometimes takes to fully develop a position."
Despite being so respected by his students for the knowledge he brings to the classroom, Vergin is the first to state that no one has all the answers. He challenges his students to be open to differing schools of thought on such traditionally divisive areas as politics, religion, and global issues. "I want them to do more than passive listening, to seek to understand, and to respect the differences as much as celebrating the commonalities we share." It gives him joy to see kids helping to teach each other—which is increasingly enabled by new technologies such as blogging and posting on social media—and helping them share what they know.
As the MPA student body has become more diverse, Vergin has helped to coach his students not to expect others to be ambassadors for their religions, cultures, or beliefs. As he puts it, "you're only an ambassador for yourself." This skill of allowing each person their own voice helps put everyone at ease, and he strives to show opposing points of view as he introduces critical topics. For his own part, Vergin commits to presenting himself as neutrally as possible with his students. It made him laugh last year when two seniors approached him and asked, "When we come back as alumni, can you tell us what you really think about different topics?"
When asked what the most exciting part of his job is, Vergin reflects that he has the privilege of seeing students' growth from ninth to 12th grade. "Watching the constitutional law students present with such poise at the Minnesota Court of Appeals (including international students who spoke limited English just a few years before), seeing them design social entrepreneurial projects, witnessing them engaging with the world, and then going out into it—these are some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching at MPA."