By Evelyn Archibald and Mytrisha Sarmiento
Bradley Davey, chemistry teacher at Summit Shasta, has experienced many different sides of education. He has been both a student and a teacher, and both someone who struggled with it and fell in love with it.
Mr. Davey described his journey to becoming a teacher as “really weird.” He explained, “There are maybe some teachers who knew that they wanted to do it for their entire life, or, like, their mom was a teacher, their dad was a teacher, or they themselves had a really inspirational teacher that was important to them. I think those are like common narratives. But then I think there are also people who felt really underserved by education, and that they wanted to be a part of making it better. And I think that’s more my story.”
Mr. Davey grew up in Texas, with a single mother and older brother in an “unstable” home. In one word, Mr. Davey described his childhood as, “Sad.” He elaborated, “Sad, abusive, not healthy …The best part of my childhood is my older brother for sure. Yeah, a bit chaotic, not stable.”
“But basically, my parents died when I was really young, and I was in and out of different systems. I essentially didn’t go to school. … In Texas, they expelled you [if you didn’t go to school].” Mr. Davey dropped out of school when he was 15 years old, and eventually ended up getting his GED after being put in front of a judge.
He began to move around when he was 16 years old, and found a mentor figure in his neighbor, who encouraged him to pursue further education. “He encouraged me to kind of follow a childhood dream I had of becoming a firefighter … And so I did.”
Mr. Davey attended paramedic school and “fell in love” with learning. “I was like, ‘wow, I want to do this forever. I just want to like, learn forever … And I was really successful in that.” With the help of his personal mentor, he decided to switch paths, and started studying medicine at university with the intention of becoming a doctor.
“And when I did that, I kind of just fell in love with chemistry and organic chemistry. And so I did that. And that was most of my education.” He then continued his education not into pre-med, as he originally planned, but into chemistry and teaching. Directly before coming to Shasta, Mr. Davey studied and taught in Germany.
His childhood was an especially important part of Mr. Davey’s decision to be a teacher. “I realized that if you had known like some things about me that, like, my dad died when I was young, that I grew up poor and that I had a single Mom and was in this different environment, you could use those three things to predict the fact that I was going to not finish high school.”
Mr. Davey continued, “And the fact that we had enough data, like enough knowledge about young people in the world to predict that, bothered me, right? Like, this wasn’t unique to me. … But there were – there were thousands and tens of thousands and maybe even a lot more than that, people who were like me. And so that’s what kind of compelled me to get into education.”
When thinking of his challenges in life, Mr. Davey recalled that his path through education was one of the hardest points of his life to overcome. “I went to college completely by accident. I had no intention of going to college. I was 21 when I started college, I was starting college when most people were graduating college. And in addition to that, I was starting college with basically, probably like a sixth or seventh grade education … So the amount of things that I had to learn in a very short period of time was very challenging.”
Although he says his upbringing and early education underserved him, Mr. Davey said it’s “not the thing that matters to me anymore. You know, it’s, it’s more than half my lifetime ago.” He has moved on from that period of his life, and focuses on the present. “I don’t think about my childhood anymore. I don’t think about those things, I think about who I am now and the person I am now and the experiences I have now.”
Mr. Davey’s path to chemistry and teaching has led him in several different directions, but has brought him to where he is now. He says that today, being a teacher is “probably the most interesting thing” about him. As a teacher at Shasta, he’s taught and learned from his students, but he also has future goals in education.
Professionally, he said, “I don’t envision myself being a teacher for the rest of my life, not a high school teacher.” Mr. Davey wants to move into being a professor of education, teaching teachers. Part of this, he said, is that he wants to teach more advanced students than high schoolers.
“You’re learning things like, what does it mean to be a human being? Right? What does it mean to sit down in the gym and study for 90 minutes? How do you do that?” He considered and continued, “I think those things are important. They’re just not things that I’m interested in teaching people.”
Mr. Davey said his interests lie more in defining science education. “What does it mean to be a science teacher? What does it mean to be a chemistry teacher in particular? And so what I would hope to accomplish is that I have made a significant contribution in making chemistry education much better in the United States and hopefully in a lot of other countries too.”
Changing the way school is taught is a specific interest of Mr. Davey’s. He said that, as a science teacher, he hopes to have students more engaged in the work, and excited to be in class. “I would be really sad if there were a lot of students in my chemistry class that were bored. But I think that that’s true at most schools where students are just – they find their work not that interesting, which is sad to me.”
He continues, “You’re forced to be here. You have to be here all day. Imagine, like, if I were going to a place where I didn’t like to be all day – I wouldn’t go there … Why do we force young people to do that? Doesn’t feel fair to me.”
Mr. Davey’s values of “personal growth and change” are important to knowing who he is, as a person and as a teacher. “I am still growing,” he said. “So you have checkpoints that we give you green, yellows and reds on, but you don’t red, yellow and green my checkpoints. But I wish you would … I wish our students would come up at the end of a block and say, ‘Hey, this wasn’t that great. I think it could, I think you could improve in this way’. But like the number of times that students have told me those things? Very, very few times.”
“Life’s a lot longer than it feels, I think, as a young person,” Mr. Davey said, as advice to his students. “Everything feels incredibly important and … that you can’t make mistakes, and you have to be perfect, and you have to do all these things; volunteering, and have a job and run a club and etc.”
He encourages young people to be true to themselves. “Find time to figure out what’s really important to you, don’t just do the things that you think you have to do. And once you find that thing, like really own it … say no to everything else and do that one thing.”
Mr. Davey said, “Don’t be afraid to fail, is the biggest thing.” He supported this, saying, “I see so many students who stay safe, you know, who don’t seek out really challenging opportunities.” He gave examples of situations he’s seen his students in, from not taking extra classes to not branching out of friend groups.
“A big thing that we see is not leaving California to go to college, right? Because you want to be near your family. You want to be safe and comfortable,” he says. “Go away. Move. Challenge yourself. Stop being so afraid of the world. Stop being so afraid of failing, because everybody fails. Okay, you’re gonna be fine.”
Featured Image: Bradley Davey discusses his past and present experiences with education. (Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald)