David Drabkin edited

David Drabkin, a third-generation teacher, has served as an instructor of literature and composition at Town School for Boys (grades 7–8), Phillips Academy Andover (grades 9–11), and San Quentin State Prison (grades 12+). A first-generation American and native Russian speaker, David holds a Master of Liberal Arts from Stanford and a BA in philosophy from Cornell. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities scholarship, a Klingenstein Summer Institute Fellowship, and the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce’s TEACH Fellowship. He began his career in education as a middle school humanities resident teacher at Town School for Boys, which he attended and where he taught seventh and eighth grade English, directed the school’s capstone research project, served on the scheduling committee, managed the student literary magazine, and coached three seasons of boys’ soccer. He enjoys learning from students and peering into the unknown together with them at the discussion table.

Before getting his start in teaching, David spent several years trading organic fruits and vegetables at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. He is a graduate of nearby Crystal Springs Uplands School. He lives in San Francisco and keeps honeybees in San Mateo.



1. Tells us about your years as an organic fruit trader. What took you down that path?

I think it all started with managing a student-run coffee shop for three out of my four years in college. I loved learning about supply chains and logistics, and the summer I spent WWOOFing on a farm in Mallorca deepened my interest in the food and agriculture industry. I remember walking into the only certified organic distributor at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and asking for a job. A few days later, I rode my Vespa across town for my first early-morning shift (2:00 am – noon) in the shipping warehouse. Operations felt like playing with gigantic toy trucks and train sets, and there was a permanent urgency because we were handling perishable commodities. I moved into sales after a few months and enjoyed negotiating with national retail chains, independent natural food stores, and local markets. The entire experience opened my eyes to a universe that was otherwise hidden from public view.


2. What inspired your career switch from fruit trader to teacher?

I was in search of adventure. After leaving the produce market, I first set out on a cross-country bicycle ride with a dear friend and spent hours thinking and dreaming about my future as we pedaled through 10 states. When I returned home, I felt motivated to pursue something meaningful and worthwhile. From my first Montessori memories, I always felt school delivered a sense of belonging and connection, easing the sense of otherness (as a first-generation American and native Russian speaker, I have some firsthand experience with being an outsider) and anchoring me to a community. My teachers helped me embrace the struggle to reconcile my heritage with my surroundings. I chose to teach because I wanted to support students through these same moments of personal development; I knew what this work could do for someone when it is done well. Still, I was never the student in class who thought of becoming a teacher. Yet all of a sudden, there I was — the fourth educator in my family, starting out as a substitute teacher and then applying to the New Teacher Institute at my own middle school.


3. How did you get involved in beekeeping? What do you enjoy most about the process?

I don’t have the acreage for bison or cattle, so I started looking for an efficient way to farm in the city. This led to joining the San Francisco Beekeepers Association, enrolling in a bee biology class, and ordering 20,000 live bees through the mail. My parents graciously offered to host two hives on their property, since I don’t have backyard or roof access in San Francisco. After two years of beekeeping, I have begun to wonder if my bees are actually keeping me. I may attempt to keep them from starving, stinging, or swarming, but it is the honeybee that keeps me enchanted. Perhaps humans have kept bees for millennia not to refill the honeypot (although I have harvested over 150 pounds of the stuff), but to draw meaning from the hive. There are so many life lessons — industriousness, teamwork, simplicity, economy, loyalty, bravery — that the honey is almost an afterthought, really. Poets have written about bee magic throughout the ages because the hive is a fruitful microcosm of humanity.


4. What books have had the greatest impact on you?

I somehow made it through years of liberal arts training without ever meeting The Stranger by Albert Camus. I was floored after reading it this summer at a National Endowment for Humanities seminar on existentialism. The story is haunting, not just in its portrayal of the absurd, but in how it leads readers to question their own authenticity. I also have a soft spot for Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories because of the feeling I would have when my father — or sometimes Jack Nicholson on a recorded cassette tape — would explain “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin,” or how other animals came to be. I remember uncovering some of the world’s best-kept secrets, while at the same time just beginning to wonder if these tales were too far-fetched to be true. Everything by Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, and Tolstoy makes me better understand the Russian psyche I inherited from my family. The same goes for Shteyngart and Roth’s portrayal of the Jewish experience in America.


What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I see education as a celebration of life and human potential. This goes for adolescents as well as adults, so I am eager to learn from Nueva students and peer into the unknown together with them at the discussion table. I believe discussion-based pedagogy is a shared enterprise; it empowers everyone in the room by situating them at the center of their own schooling. Of course, Nueva is famous for its culture of innovation, so I am looking forward to experiencing everything that comes with a school that prizes experimentation.

















 September 1, 2017



6565 Skyline Blvd.
Hillsborough, CA 94010





131 E. 28th Ave.
San Mateo, CA 94403



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