In the 15 years he’s been employed in the field of education, David Smokler has worked with students from all walks of life and socio-economic groups.
The new Assistant Vice Principal for Instruction at Belmont High School, who replaced Dan Richards, began his career in 1996 teaching English through VisionQuest – a national youth services organization that provides innovative intervention services to at-risk youth and families.
“When I graduated from (Connecticut College) with a degree in English and certification to teach, I couldn’t find a job in a public school,” said Smokler. “So, instead, I taught kids on a wagon train, most of whom were from urban environments.”
Rather than standing in front of a “traditional classroom” of high-school kids, Smokler was on a horse-drawn, cross-country covered wagon train where he planned lessons and taught literature and writing to more than 50 incarcerated students while traveling 20 to 25 miles a day on wagons from Pennsylvania to southwestern Texas.
The next year, he taught English to youth offenders in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility.
“Every day was different and an adventure,” Smokler said of his tenure working with troubled youth. But it was also difficult as he came across a lot of sad cases.
What Smokler learned in his first two years as an educator, is that “kids are kids” and “there’s always something good in them.”
It’s never too late, he firmly believes, to help them out.
Teaching life now rather than English
After securing positions teaching English at Sandwich High School in 1998 and then at Needham High School in 2009, Smokler realized that he was interested in “the larger picture” of working as an administrator.
He was the vice president for the teacher’s union at Needham High School and then served as the Assistant Principal at Pembroke High School from 2010-2011.
“When people ask me if I miss teaching, I tell them I still am but in a much smaller classroom,” Smokler said. “I’m not teaching English now; I’m teaching life.”
Rather than reading students’ essays and guiding them through literature, Smokler now spends his days with discipline cases; overseeing MCAS, SAT and AP testing; making the master calendar for the academic year; supervising and evaluating teachers; updating news and the calendar for BHS’s web site; and chairing the steering committee for the accreditation visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges scheduled for March 11-13.
“I love it,” Smokler said about his job at Belmont High that he started on July 1. “There are a lot of amazing things going on here: a talented pool of teachers who are committed and like kids; the students themselves who are driven, polite and are highly dedicated to their studies as well as sport and extracurricular activities; and an administration that has been extremely supportive.”
In particular, Smokler said Belmon High Principal Dr. Michael Harvey has been wonderful to work with and has allowed him to be himself in this new role.
“He recognizes that building relationships with kids is an important part of my job,” Smokler said about Harvey. “I’m lucky because I enjoy coming to work every day.”
Keeping up with educational trends
When he heard last year the position he now holds at BHS was open, Smokler said he was intrigued because Belmont has such a high reputation for educational excellence.
From the minute he walked into his interview, Smokler said he was thrilled with what he saw and is delighted to now be a part of the district.
In the past 15 years, he’s done a lot to stay current in the field of education.
Smokler earned a master’s degree in teaching English from Bridgewater State University and a license in administration from the Commonwealth Leadership Academy.
In 2005, he published a book titled “Interactive Learning Experiences, Grades 6-12: Increasing Student Engagement and Learning” that is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.
It’s for teachers of those grades and demonstrates how to create and set up a classroom experience for students even if little time is available for preparation. In opposition to “teacher-centered instruction,” Smokler said his book is about how the adolescent brain is “wired to seek novelty and ignore familiar stimuli.”
Based on brain-compatible teaching principles, “Interactive Learning Experiences, Grades 6-12: Increasing Student Engagement and Learning” details how teachers can transform everyday classroom lectures into “memorable interactive learning experiences and reinforce course content by introducing new, different and surprising elements into daily lessons,” states the description on Amazon.com.
Kesha, a student of Smokler’s while he was doing research for the book, said, “We were his test subjects. I can testify first-hand that the exercises in this book are great and everyone in the class looked forward to seeing what new game we were going to play.”
It’s like “hiding vegetables in your kid’s food; they don’t know how good it is for them,” Kesha said.
Planning more publications
Smokler said he’s very interested in writing more but needs to find the time.
He is equally attracted to pursuing fiction as he is to more manuscripts about education.
“This job taps into the same creativity as writing,” Smoker said by way of explaining that when he arrives home in Watertown, he is often too tired to write.
For now, though, he stays up-to-date with current educational research by reading journals devoted to the field.
And he is committed – first and foremost – to those he has pledged to serve at BHS.
“There’s no typical day for me,” Smokler said. “I put out fires as they come up and am in contact with the students every single day.”
For his first year in the district, Smokler is dedicating any free time he has in between school hours to writing grant applications for a number of educational endeavors and getting to know the student body and teaching staff.
“I’ve invited all teachers to come visit and talk about BHS to hear their point of view, what they think is working and if they want to see changes,” he said. “And I’m regularly in the library and cafeteria, talking to the students.”
Assistant Principal David Smokler can be reached at email@example.com or 617-993-5901.