Our Inspired Teachers: Dave Whitson

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Dave Whitson, US history

Bachelor's in history and comparative literature, master's in curriculum and instruction, University of Washington. At CGS since 2011.

 

My senior year of high school, we were required to teach a session of our English class. I really enjoyed it. I became a teacher. People like windy paths with trees and hills; that’s a flat, paved road.
 
Of course, the real ascent began soon after. The first classes I taught at the University of Washington were disasters. I hadn’t experienced much academic failure in my life, but now I failed spectacularly. Ten minutes into my first hour-long class, I was out of material and had lost the students; paper airplanes whizzed through the air when I turned my back. I couldn’t understand how the formula that had worked so masterfully in high school was DOA in university.
 
Fortunately, I got better. My fifth class was not a crippling embarrassment. My eighth class aspired towards mediocrity—an event worthy of celebration at the time.
 
I had thought it would be easy. I had thought I would walk into the classroom and immediately fill the space with my brilliance and wit. Instead, it was the most difficult thing I had ever taken on. In the midst of those setbacks, I remember a student emailing for help with a paper, at 9 p.m. Over the next few hours, we workshopped the paper, taking some good ideas and fashioning them into an argument. At 12:15 a.m., I received a very excited email; the student had been worried about the essay, but now was really proud of it.
 
I confess that, when I decided to become a teacher, I did so thinking about the life devoted to learning. The thrill of the classroom environment. The summers off. Only after I first helped a student create something she was proud of, though, did I actually experience success as a teacher.
 
My next class went much better.