Each year, thanks to a generous gift from the Mario and Alma Pastega Foundation, four outstanding Corvallis School District staff are honored with a Golden Apple Award. Highlighted here is one of this year’s recipients: David Abrams
Job: 5th-grade teacher, Adams School.
Family: Abrams grew up in the mid-valley; his parents, Joel and Charmaine, still live in the area. He has an older sister and three brothers.
In his spare time: “Anything outside,” he said, including hiking and paddleboarding. “And lately, I’ve been playing a lot of golf.”
From the Golden Apple nomination: “Teaching is a natural outlet for David’s creative, caring, and compassionate personality. He is someone who regularly goes beyond himself to bring engaging instruction and deep learning to students from a variety of backgrounds.”
In retrospect, David Abrams thinks he should have picked up on the signals that something was up at the Adams School assembly.
It seemed normal enough at first: Adams, where Abrams teaches fifth grade, typically holds monthly assemblies where teachers and staff members highlight a monthly skill they’re trying to pass on to students. But at this point, most of these assemblies had been held virtually (pandemic, remember?), and this one was in-person.
“Which did make me curious,” Abrams said.
And there was the presence of Abrams’ aunt, Cassanda Cooper, but she was there to get an award for her volunteer work at the school. And there was that woman with the camera.
And, finally, here was Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss, launching into remarks about a still-unnamed winner of the Golden Apple award, sponsored by the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation to honor outstanding teachers and staff members.
“And a colleague and I looked at each other,” Abrams said, and the two started speculation about who was about to win the award. “I was listening to the attributes that Ryan was listing. And I had a colleague in mind that I thought could have absolutely gotten it.”
It probably was a pretty good guess.
But it was wrong.
“And then they said my name,” Abrams recalled. “Some of my family members were there and popped out, which was a big surprise. It’s not my forte, to be in front of a group and get that recognition. I was a little bit shocked, and uncomfortable. It’s very humbling.”
At least he didn’t have to give a speech. Noss told Abrams he could speak a few words if he wanted.
“And I said, ‘I’m good.’”
A foreign excursion
Abrams, 38, is more than good in the eyes of the people who nominated him for the Golden Apple.
“He is passionate about making sure learning is accessible for all his students and varies his teaching styles to make sure everyone in his classroom has the opportunity to learn,” wrote a colleague in nominating Abrams. “It’s no small feat helping preteens believe in themselves, but he makes it his mission to build his students up every day, and it’s no coincidence that his students leave the classroom glowing with self-confidence.”
Abrams grew up in the mid-valley and attended Oregon State University, where “I was slow to pick a major, but I was always pretty good at working with kids in different capacities,” he said. So he studied early childhood development and did student teaching at Head Start at Garfield School. (He also volunteered during his college years as a “lunch buddy” at Adams.)
So it might have seemed back then that Abrams was at the start of a straight, smooth flight path to his current job at Adams. But he took a self-imposed detour.
A big one.
After his student teaching experience at Garfield, he didn’t have a teaching license, but he wanted a longer teaching experience. “I wanted to do it for a year and see how I felt at the end of the year,” he said.
So he went to a place where he could dive in: South Korea, where he taught, among other things, English to preschool students.
“It’s a pretty competitive educational environment,” he said. “But it was really fun – good experience, good adventure, worked really hard. I met some great people there and still are connected with some of them.”
Some of the lessons Abrams picked up in Korea still are reflected in Abrams’ teaching philosophy.
“I learned a lot from mistakes,” he said, but also learned how to “adapt to what my students need. … There are lots of different ways to do things.”
Upon returning to Oregon, he got a teaching license at Western Oregon University, did student teaching in kindergarten at Adams, got hired for a temporary job in fourth grade, “and then got temporarily hired three times in a row in Adams, so I was able to stay there, which was great.”
“It’s been a good fit,” he said of Adams. “For me, It’s a great place to be. It’s always had a lot of positivity, a lot of joy amongst staff and colleagues. And I’ve grown to really appreciate that about that place.”
Preparing students for success
He also has an appreciation for the fourth- and fifth-graders he’s taught at Adams over the years.
It’s an age group, he said, that likes “to have fun and be silly and do kid things. But also, they’re becoming independent. They’re starting to be able to do more on their own. So a lot of what we do is build structures where they can do things, mostly independently, or start to grow those skills.”
He understands that his fifth-graders are just a year away from middle school, and so some of his work revolves around getting them ready for that experience.
“I feel like a big part of fifth grade is helping them grow those skills to be successful in middle school. So self-confidence is a big piece of that, self-advocacy and cheering them on.”
And part of it as well is adapting to the needs of each individual student.
“I also really love getting to know kids and connecting with them and figuring out what makes them tick,” he said.
Abrams said he’s more reflective in the classroom than he used to be when he first started teaching, and maybe just a little less energetic as he ages.
“I think more deeply about what’s going on,” he said, especially in cases in which he might be working through behavioral issues with students. “I’m less reactionary and more just trying to figure out how to empathize with students.”
And that, he said, leads to moments of self-reflection.
All that helps to explain why Abrams has little or no desire to leave the classroom behind and pursue an administrative job.
“None of that seems very appealing to me,” he said of administrative posts. Work in the classroom, he said, is more “life-giving and entertaining. I’m more passionate about interacting with students in the classroom.”
Besides, the way he sees it, administrators have to solve “mostly big problems all the time. And not very fun ones. I have a lot of admiration for people who have that job, but I don’t have a desire to do it.”