David Broweleit graduated from the University of Washington Dental School in 1974. After practicing dentistry for six years he went on to Boston University, graduating to become an endodontist. He moved back to Seattle and practiced that profession, while raising his family. He retired in 2011 at the age of 63. Now, the “rest” of the story.
AIAA: David, when you retired in 2011 did you know what you wanted to do next?
David Broweleit: I did not.
AIAA: You retired and then decided to take some time to breathe and think? What happened?
David Broweleit: I'd been doing dentistry for 40 years. Either being in school or practicing. I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to die while clutching a dental instrument. I knew I wanted to stop doing dentistry but I didn't want to stop working. I knew I wanted to find meaningful work but I didn't know what that was going to be.
AIAA: We're now in 2017. At some point you made a decision on what was going to be next. Walk me through that whole process.
David Broweleit: It took me about a year. I wanted to work. I looked into a lot of things, including Home Depot and REI.
Then a neighbor called with my wife in mind, telling us about the need for substitute teachers. I've always valued education and I love children. I thought “I'm going to look into that”. I started to explore substitute teachers in the Shoreline School District. I found out what it required and went through all of the hoops. Background check, fingerprints, all of the application requirements to become a substitute teacher. Not a certificated teacher, but an assistant teacher.
AIAA: Was it to be a substitute at any grade level?
David Broweleit: At any grade level at any school in the Shoreline School District through a computer program called AESOP. I realized that I really didn't feel qualified to work above elementary age. I felt most comfortable with children six and under. I thought I'd dip my toe into teaching with younger children.
I soon started substituting primarily at the Shoreline Children's Center, which is preschool. We're talking three to five year olds. The five year olds will eventually go to kindergarten the following year so it's all preschool.
I also did some work in after-care. Every elementary school has before-care and after-care for working parents so they can drop their child off at school at 6:30 am, with the children being transferred to the classroom at around 9:00 am for the beginning of school. Then at 3:15 pm they are taken to after-care where they're provided instruction and supervision until as late as 6:30 pm. I worked for two years in the after-care program. I took on a regular position at the Shoreline Children's Center in a classroom from 8:00 am – 12:30 pm and then I would go home and go back to a different school for the after-care program.
AIAA: In terms of the how this idea happened, was it someone planting the seed by asking you a question?
David Broweleit: No. I thought Shoreline School District has really good benefits, a not so good salary. That's not what I was primarily interested in. I tried a lot of different things. I went to sub in every elementary school in the school district. I found out which ones I wanted to go back to and which ones I didn't. I spent a lot of time subbing at the Children's Center and I just sort of fell in love with the pre-schoolers. I have grandchildren and my wife and I have worked with children our entire married life.
By process of elimination I found out I didn't want to do after-care anymore. I did want to be in a classroom with pre-schoolers where I could be with the same children for the entire year and get a chance to have a relationship with them, and to a certain extent their families. I found out I was pretty good at it.
When schools and teachers need a substitute they call the ones where they’ve had previous positive experiences.
AIAA: You'd be on their A-list?
David Broweleit: That's right. For so many of these kids, there’s a shortage of male role models. I'm a grandpa type to a lot of these kids.
AIAA: Here's what I'm hearing. Tell me if I have it right. You retired in 2011 because you figured 40 years of dentistry is enough, but didn’t want to spend the rest of your life playing golf and watching TV?
David Broweleit: That’s right. I needed a reason to get up, I needed a place to go. I need something to do that's meaningful, just if for no other reason than to get myself out of my own head and get out of my own way and not focus on all the little things that can cause you to stop having relevance. There's nothing like children, seeing the world through fresh eyes, to make you feel alive. Feel like you're doing something really good for them.
I was doing something that I hadn’t really done before. By the same token, I've been a parent and I’m a grandparent. As an assistant teacher I was free to love these kids and help them do what I think most important for pre-schoolers. That is learn how to make friends and control their impulses.
Ultimately, it's the roots of empathy. It's where a child learns that what they're doing directly affects another human being, and that's most important. Every social encounter is a learning opportunity and there are an infinite number of do-overs.
AIAA: As you started investigating substitute teaching and teaching in general, through that whole pursuit to today, what was your darkest hour in terms of “Am I right for this? Is it going to work?”
David Broweleit: The darkest hour was not the children. It was the work environment and some of the adults I worked with. I discovered that not all adults in education are well suited for engaging with kids. And it’s very difficult to remove incompetent teachers. That was discouraging.
AIAA: When you had some frustration with the environment or some of your colleagues mailing it in, what made you push through that and stick with it?
The need. I never questioned the need for someone like me. Not that I'm that great but I show up on time and when I'm present, I'm really present. I work the entire time I'm there. Not everyone does that. That's true of any work environment.
My dear wife told me “I don't want to hear about that anymore. If you're that frustrated with it then you're going to need to do something." Then I figured out who to talk to in a way that would sort of positively allow me to blow off steam and do what I could without carrying around resentment for certain individuals.
At the same time, they were my friends. I liked them. I just didn't like what they did. Still don't.
AIAA: What's been one of the most gratifying aspects of this change for you?
David Broweleit: The relationship with the kids. You learn to really love the kids. At the end of the day, these are four and five year olds. Not a lot of life experiences. They say humorous things. I had a young student named James and he had no impulse control. He wanted to get his act together so he could participate in Show & Tell.
I said, "James, if you can control yourself and not interrupt constantly and can listen, it's not too late for you to do show and tell." He looked me right in the eye and said, "Teacher Dave, it's too late." It was all I could do not to laugh. I said "James, it's not too late. You're four years old, you've got lots of chances." It's that kind of thing. It's rewarding. You get the unvarnished experience of life for the first time.
AIAA: What is one of your favorite quotes?
I don't know if it's a quote. It's something that I heard and had on my mirror for a while. It's, "Be careful, David. Everyone you meet today is fighting a tough battle."
AIAA: What advice would you give a young adult today?
David Broweleit: Find something that you love to do and do it. Don't continue to do something that you don't love or stopped loving. Even though you don't think that you can manage financially, do something that that you would do even if you weren't working for money.
Also, I guess I would say don't take yourself too seriously.
AIAA: If you had to identify a significant or silly childhood memory, what comes to your mind?
David Broweleit: I remember one Christmas, I grew up on a farm in eastern Washington. It was Christmas Eve and there were about 15 or 20 family members. It was snowing. It was just like the perfect environment for a Norman Rockwell painting. Every once in a while I remember that time. Similar times on the farm. Around family and around ... I grew up in a very loving family. Still very close. Very different, but still very close.
AIAA: What would be one of your proudest accomplishments as an adult?
David Broweleit: Seeing my three grown daughters married to wonderful men with two children. I have six grandchildren and another on the way. Thinking these children that we raised and sometimes wondered about, have grown up to be loving, contributing, responsible adults that I'm proud of. If I were out of the picture tomorrow, they would do just fine. I'm proud of that. I don't take credit for it but I'm proud of the fact that it turned out that way.
AIAA: What's a value that you want to embody?
David Broweleit: That I want to embody? There are two people who are heroes of mine, for different reasons. One is Mother Teresa, to the extent that her giving and love were not dependent on anything but need. It didn't matter who the person was, it didn't matter what the person believed, it didn't matter what they had done. She was just there to serve. When I work with children and that sort of thing, there's a lot of diversity. I see each child as someone who needs a lot of things. To the extent that I can provide some of those, I will.
The other person I like a lot is Garrison Keillor, "The Prairie Home Companion," because of the way that he can look at the idiosyncrasies of people and very lovingly have fun with it. I laugh a lot. I love to work with people who see the humor behind the humor. Garrison Keillor does that. It's a simple enjoyment of the silly stuff that everybody does. You can laugh at what people do and what I do, but there's a mutual respect. Those differences are what makes us interesting, right?