David Lively, whose 50th high school reunion is in June, was the kid who played school all summer using his old workbooks. Over the course of his career, he’s taught multiple grades, been a principal, retired from teaching once and was named this year’s Teacher of the Year for Horizon Intermediate.
There was never a question about what he would do with his life except that one time in college when he made assistant manager at a TG&Y store. It seemed like a reasonable idea to quit school and make great money full time. He celebrated with his first new car, a bronze Chevy Malibu with a black vinyl top.
“I worked there maybe a year,” he said. “That’s all it took.”
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He quit TG&Y to do his student teaching. Thanks to his father making the car payments, he got to keep the Malibu.
“I had very kind parents,” he said. “My father only went through the sixth grade. He was very smart in math. I was the only boy who graduated and he was very proud of me. He would have done anything to help me get my degree. My dad would have gone far in the world if he would have had an education, but he had to do hard labor. He helped build houses. He worked on a dairy farm. He worked for a place that made tillage tools. I have always wanted to make my parents proud of me.”
When he graduated, Lively went to a private Bible college in Missouri where he met his wife of 40 years who was also from the Oklahoma panhandle. They moved back to Oklahoma where Lively got his first teaching job at the consolidated Sharon-Mutual district teaching third grade. He taught third, fifth and sixth grade before becoming the principal for a couple of years. His career for the next 30 years took him back and forth between Missouri, with the landscape they loved, and Oklahoma, to be close to their families.
In 2010 he retired from Joplin Public Schools in Missouri. Then, they moved back to Oklahoma the final time. They didn’t have a choice really; their grandchildren were here.
Lively’s grandson was in the Mustang district and Lively started substituting. When a special ed teacher had to quit for health reasons the last nine weeks of the year, Lively took over.
“I thought, ‘Man this is fun,’” he said.
He taught fifth grade at Mustang Elementary one year, went back to substituting and then was a teacher’s assistant. He was standing outside as he did every morning, greeting the kids as they arrived for the day, when he was approached by Holly McKinney, principal of Horizon Intermediate. He loved working with McKinney, loved her positive attitude. The next thing he knew, he was a math teacher at Horizon.
“I’ve been everywhere,” he said. “This is one of the most positive buildings I have ever been in. Everyone likes everyone. Everybody helps everybody and we have such support from our leaders. That’s why I’m still here.”
Lively has simple rules for his classroom: Don’t overthink math; have fun; and his classroom is a haven.
“I have never had a student where I could have said, ‘I wish I never would have had you.’ They may have been difficult, but they were difficult for a reason. They may take it out on me, but it’s not me. It’s what is going on in their lives. I tell them, ‘This is your safe place. This is utopia. This is Crazyland because I’m the king of it. Don’t ever feel threatened or sad in my room and I’m sorry you have that in your world.’”
He tells them he’s there if they ever need to talk. He encourages them to talk to any teacher if they have problems, that they don’t have to go through it alone although a lot of them do.
Lively loves working with fifth graders. They’re still eager to learn and not too grown up, he said.
“They’re just fun. They still like you and they’re fun to be with,” he said. “And you can have fun with them. They're so eager.”
They appreciate it when he dresses up as Elvis, or as an elf at Christmas and he manages to convince other teachers to dress up with him. For the 2016 Relay for Life, Lively, in a sequined ball gown and heels, won Queen of the Relay for the Horizon team.
“When you have people that are so supportive, they can get me to do anything for a good cause,” he said.
Lively has been teaching at Horizon for three years.
“I’m shooting for two more years just because I don’t want to have a walker going up and down the hall. Or, it depends on the lottery, but if I win that, I’ll buy my own school,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll go as long as I enjoy it and when I quit enjoying it, I’ll quit.”
Lively will be competing with 13 other site teachers of the year for the title of District Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced at a special banquet in March.