For the past 27 years, David Mireles has been teaching children and adults from all over the world. Currently in his 10th year teaching at Kapaa High School as a 10th-grade English teacher, Mireles still finds teaching young adults to be the most rewarding job he’s ever had.
Mireles was named the 2016 Kauai Teacher of the Year just a few months ago, and was humbled by the award. Mireles never expected to receive that type of recognition for doing what he loves, which is working to improve the lives of children.
What made you want to become a teacher?
That was a long time ago, 27 years ago. I had tried other fields. I graduated from Cal-Berkeley and then thought about becoming an attorney and I worked at a law firm for a while but I didn’t really care for that. I had already worked in West Oakland in Emeryville working with at-risk youths, and that really appealed to me when I reflected on that experience and decided to apply to schools and got accepted to UCLA’s graduate school of education and earned my teaching license and master’s degree. I’ve enjoyed every moment since.
I’ve had a really good teaching career. I’ve taught in California for five years, I’ve taught in Asia for 10 years in Indonesia and India working at an international school with ex-patriates and diplomats working abroad.
And this all started from working with a few kids in Oakland?
Yeah, it all started with just a few kids back in Emeryville.
So what is it about working with kids that makes this job so rewarding for you?
Their youth keeps me youthful. I think through the years, one thing has remained constant and that’s the kids getting to see the whole world and become adults and try to guide them to make good decisions that lead to a better future for them. That’s really important to me.
You’ve been all around the world and taught in different countries. Why did you want to teach here in Kauai of all places?
People always ask me that question. After my extensive travels — I basically traveled the world for 10 years — I always came back to Kauai because I always thought it was the most beautiful place on Earth. The people have always been very open and friendly and I also felt that it had the benefits of being a state and it was a place that appealed to me when I was raising my young family at the time because so much emphasis is on family.
More specifically, what’s it like teaching in Kapaa?
It’s a really small community, very small island. I live in Kilauea and being in the community in Kapaa, the biggest benefit is going to the supermarket. It’s never a quick experience. There’s always time to talk story with former students and how they’re doing. I really enjoy talking story with people in Kapaa. You just have to live your life and people appreciate that.
Do you see former students a lot?
Yeah, all the time. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes bad. Sometimes you just want anonymity. But I made the choice to live on such a small island.
You were named Kauai Teacher of the Year in 2016. What was receiving that honor like for you?
It was really humbling. I’m not one who craves for the spotlight, I just like to work and do my job and come home to my family. It was certainly a surprise and a big honor. I know there’s many teachers here that are deserving as well, not just my own colleagues at Kapaa. I kinda dedicate my award to my colleagues and the students that I work with on a daily basis.
How did your students react when you were given that award?
They were really excited. I think the students I had at the time were really proud to have a teacher like that in their classroom. It gave them a sense of pride and gave them a sense that their needs were being served.
Do you have any different methods of teaching that stand out? What works and what doesn’t?
Yeah I have many methods that I rely upon. I think over the course of my career, I’ve always relied on technology to help my students and improve their writing skills. I’m a really strong believer in using technology as a tool to leverage education and talent. I also do group work, cooperative learning, project-based learning, these are all methods that have a lot of research behind it.
I always research the methodology before I implement it just to see if other schools have practiced those methods on students and then I move forward. I also do a lot of tutoring on the side.
Do you have a side job?
Like most teachers on Kauai, like most everybody on Kauai, I have a side job. I tutor on the side for college and career placement, SAT and ACT tutoring, stuff like that.
How many hours do you tutor for on the side?
Saturdays can be about two or three hours, then a few hours during the week. So I’d say I do that about eight hours a week.
How important is it to develop a strong student-teacher relationship with these kids to help them learn?
It’s incredibly important. At the beginning of the school year or the beginning of a semester, I try my best to learn as much as I can from my students about them through surveys, observation and conversations about their work habits. Even reaching out to parents, I have no problem reaching out to parents. All parents want the best for their children, even though it may not seem like it at the time. All parents want a better life for their children. I always look at it from that point of view.
I want to treat every child as if they’re my child because I think as a teacher, you shouldn’t give anything less.
What’s one of the hardest moments you’ve had being a teacher?
There’s so many stories i could tell you. But I think the first day of school is the toughest. I’ve been teaching for 27 years, but I’m still nervous on the first day. No doubt it, I still get butterflies. You just want everything to go well on the first day. I even have a special shirt for that day. The hardest day is always the first day and then it goes uphill from there.
The best day, hands down, I’ve never missed one and I never intend to, is graduation. Especially on Kauai.
I think every single citizen should go to a high school graduation on Kauai, no matter what high school it is. They’re very unique, they’re different and they’re very individualized. They really show Hawaiian values and what Hawaii is all about.
You don’t find that anywhere else in the world.