ELLSWORTH — David Stackpole, who recently announced that he will retire at the end of the school year, can rattle off a lot of numbers associated with his time teaching in Ellsworth.
There’s 45, the number of years he’s taught sixth grade. Or 2,000, roughly the number of students who have passed through his classroom doors. Thirty-two is the number of years he’s spent coaching girls’ junior varsity basketball. Two hundred, the number of boxes of Red Sox memorabilia at his house, some of which was given to him by students over the years. And there’s 21, the age Stackpole was when he landed a job teaching sixth grade in Ellsworth.
“You feel like you’re close to them in age” at that point, says Stackpole, “like an uncle. Then a father, then a grandfather.”
Those first students he taught, says Stackpole, “I’ve had their grandchildren now.”
Originally from Marblehead, Mass., Stackpole moved with his family to Milbridge when he was 5. The family later moved to Machias, where Stackpole’s father ran an appliance store and where Stackpole would meet his future wife, Jane, attend university and take an interest in teaching (college “cost me $400 total,” he laughs).
The father of one says he still remembers his first day teaching, a day he says he barely left his desk.
“You’re prepared for what you’re going to teach them, but you’re not prepared for the discipline,” Stackpole says. “There’s school stuff but there’s other stuff too.”
Stackpole concedes that, 45 years later, “my discipline’s not really great.” His goal for his classes “was for kids to feel safe enough in the classroom to ask questions. I think they do.”
Stackpole says he loves that moment “when the light goes on” and a tricky subject clicks in a student’s head. He also loves kids’ quirky sayings: “I used to keep a little book about things,” he remembers, such as the girl who had lost something and was looking for it in “‘nookans’-nooks and crannies.”
Stackpole says he can’t imagine what he’ll do with his time in retirement, but is emphatic that it won’t involve substitute teaching.
“I think subbing is a very difficult job,” he said.
As for teaching?
“I’d do it again. I just don’t have the energy now,” Stackpole laments. “It’s time.”
He credits his wife, Jane, who teaches down the hall, with keeping him energized all these years.
“She’s just a rookie,” he laughs. “She’s only taught 30 years.”
“She still has that idealism,” he says. The teacher and coach says it’s been nice over the years to have someone to compare notes with at the end of the day.
The two also have competed. Jane coaches cheerleading, says Stackpole, and he jokingly blames her for having “singlehandedly wrecked the girls’ basketball program over the years” by convincing students to cheerlead instead.
Has teaching changed over the past four decades? Yes and no, says Stackpole.
When he first started, says Stackpole, “You’d ask students to look something up and they’d grab their encyclopedias.” He doesn’t blame students now when they reach for their devices to answer a question.
“The technology amazes me. They know more than I do.” But despite the shifts in technology and periodic overhauls of grading and curriculum, kids are still kids.
“Watching at dances, it hasn’t changed in 45 years,” Stackpole says. There are still two lines on either side of the gym, he laughs, and “they send an emissary” from one side to the other.
Stackpole is excited about retirement (“Maybe I’ll get up at 12 p.m.!”) but says he’s not quite sure what he’ll do without a classroom.
“There’s a quote: ‘Old teachers don’t retire, they just lose their class.’”