Dave Mitchell moves on from the high school



English teacher Dave Mitchell’s empty desk. Mitchell is transitioning from teaching to woodworking this month

Dave Mitchell spent his last day as an English teacher at BHS on Feb. 2. Mitchell, who has been teaching in Brookline for 11 years, will begin working at Cannon Hill Woodworking this month as a woodworker.

How are you feeling?
Sad, overwhelmed, excited, relieved, elated, tired.

Why are you leaving?
I am depleted as a teacher and I found a job doing something I really love that will be different for me: woodworking, building custom-made hardwood tables in Boston.

Why does now feel like the right time to move on to something new?
Finding a job that’s a good fit coincided with feeling like this job is less of a good fit. A number of circumstances coincided really well, serendipitously.

What has changed to make teaching less of a positive experience?
Teaching has been exceptionally strange and challenging in the last couple of years. In addition, I want to do some other things besides repeating 11th grade every year. I can’t read “Great Gatsby” more than a decade in a row. Repeating a year of high school is a strange existence.

Working really hard to create something that’s ethereal for students is extremely rewarding, but it’s become too stressful for me to do. Last year burned me out several times, though I came back somewhat replenished. That’s worn out again for me this year.

What do you think could be different to prevent teachers from having that burnout?
During COVID I think every school has been taxed in a way that is unsustainable in the long-term for teachers. This particular school can do lots of stuff. For me, I’ve had a hard time swallowing the dysfunction in our school system on a big level, between the parties that make decisions in our school district. I feel like those decisions are perpetually disconnected from our classrooms and the experience of teachers and students.

Inside the building, what do you hope changes moving forward?
What do I hope changes? I stopped doing that. I’m no longer thinking about that.

If you were to come back in 10 years to visit, what could you see that would make you say, “Oh wow, I’m really glad that this has happened?”
It’s not something actually that I think I’d be seeing as much as feeling that teachers are energized, supported, unified. Those are hard things to name what they look like. But, as a school community we need more unity, cooperation, compassion, empathy of other parties, clocks that work, rooms that are fully functional, air flow that’s high-quality and a place for teachers to get food and drinks and caffeine easily. This is the only place I’ve ever worked at that doesn’t have a consistent cup of coffee, unless you provide it for yourself. I would like to see a place where the support for teachers is felt, experienced and real and not generated by teachers themselves.

Are there any highlights that stand out from the time you spent here?
There have been tons of highlights. Mostly students and staff who I’m friends with. I’ve gotten to teach a lot of really interesting things that I’ve gotten to help create, which is really stimulating to be able to do as a teacher.

Where do you see yourself in a year or in 5 years?
No idea. Maybe woodworking, maybe teaching again. I don’t know. I’m going to go start woodworking and I’m excited to do that.

What will that entail? What are the details?
There are about 8 guys that work there. It’s a fairly young company that’s growing and I will be making wooden tables and then helping them run their shop eventually if I stay on. I’m a medium-skilled woodworker which means I can use most of the equipment they use, but I need to learn a lot. So I’m also really excited to learn how to do stuff I don’t know how to do and to be in an environment where I can be less stressed and scatterbrained. Teaching is a state of hypervigilant scatterbrain: multi-tasking.

That’s been really stressful for me. I’m looking forward to being more single-minded in my job, being able to focus on the quality of experiences one at a time. And also do something physical and manual that has a tangible product, rather than teaching, which is the exact opposite of that in a lot of ways. I’d have a dirty classroom and some scrap paper leftover at the end of the year. So, I’m going to go make something. Which is very appealing to me.

How long has this decision been in the making?
I started woodworking as a summer gig during college for a couple of years and really loved it but decided on teaching and went back to college to get my teaching degree. Teaching has been my calling and my passion for about 15 years. I came here for grad school, and since then I’ve been teaching here. But I can’t do that job any more, right now. I imagine I’ll do it again somewhere at some point. But, I’m depleted as a teacher. I know that a lot of teachers feel similar to how I feel but are in different circumstances. If I were closer to retiring, I’d be in a different place. If I were just starting here, I’d be in a different place. If I had different home circumstances, I’d be in a different place.

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from my colleagues that they get it. They get that a lot of aspects of this job have been unsustainable, a lot of the job that we’ve been doing has been very taxing on us. I feel for teachers, I feel for students.

As an employee here, it’s no longer worth it to put up with the amount of stress that it takes to teach well.