Teachers & Students: The Heart of the Community--Dave Tash

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Upper School math

"I treat my students like people"

From the Spring 2010 Caller

I don’t really know what I do that creates good relationships with my students, but I’ll make some observations. When I have a good relationship with kids, it’s not because I decide to get close to them. They choose if they want you to be close and what they’ll share. You can fool little kids into thinking you care when you really don’t—you can do the same with adults. But teens seem to know if you like them or not. If you like someone, they like you back.

There’s a tendency for teachers to like good students, but that’s not a good test for what kind of person they are. If they’re strong in your area, that doesn’t make them a good person; if they are weak in your area, that doesn’t make them bad.
I kid around a lot in class, and my students love it. I like high schoolers’ sense of humor. I went on stage at a coffeehouse after a student asked me, “How do you feel about public ridicule?” If I pass it out, then I need to take it as well. I teach with a sense of humor, but I don’t think I hurt any feelings—I hope not. Their honesty is also a very good thing. If they don’t like something, they’ll tell you. I just go out and have fun and be who I am, and kids respond to it and like it. As long as we’re learning math together, we might as well have fun. I like these kids and want them to go on and do well in life. I wouldn’t teach if I didn’t care.
I’m a former Navy SEAL. I was injured on a night jump from 20,000 feet. It broke my back, and I was already blind in one eye, so the Navy retired me. The kids know that I was a SEAL. It’s a big deal to some of them. They probably give me more slack than I’d have otherwise. I’m seen as different from most teachers because I had a whole life in the military before I taught.
I didn’t get into teaching to teach. When I got out of the Navy I went to Idaho and thought I wanted to coach. I helped coach a football team, but I had to be a teacher to be a head coach. So I earned my degree in math and my teaching credentials. I then started teaching in Alaska, where I didn’t coach football, but became much more interested in education. I was actually the principal of a little school in Alaska.
I want to motivate kids. Kids sometimes say that they’ve learned a lot in my class, and that’s because of their attitude; if they like you, they don’t want to let you down.
At Catlin Gabel, all the kids care about their education. I’ve told them, “I won’t care more about your grade than you do, but if you want to work on it, I’ll work with you.” I’ll never turn down a kid who needs help. I’ll always find time.
Students here are just good people. I respect them. I trust them to play fair. I expect them to be honest. I’d rather be that way than assume they’ll cheat. I occasionally get to teach about integrity. I treat my students like people. They are people.
Dave Tash began teaching at Catlin Gabel in 2004. He graduated from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, with a BS in math, and from the University of Utah with a BS in computer science. He has pursued graduate studies at the University of Alaska–Anchorage.