By Amanda Malnik
Even though Oak Hall Middle School teacher David Pickens has worked at Oak Hall for 31 years, his history with the Oak Hall community began in kindergarten.
Pickens was born in Chicago, Ill., and moved to Gainesville, Fla. when he was a young child. Except for the two years of elementary school Pickens spent in Georgia while his father served in the Army, he attended the Lower School (formerly known as Martha Manson Academy) and Oak Hall until graduation.
After graduating from Oak Hall, Pickens went to Furman University in Greenville, S.C. For many generations, his relatives attended either Furman University or Clemson University because both are in close distance to Pickens County, Ga., the place where his father’s side of the family lived since the 1700s. Pickens ultimately chose to attend Furman University as it shared many of the same qualities as Oak Hall.
Pickens initially majored in biology but soon gained a passion for history and politics, thus graduating with a degree in political science. Following college, he returned home to Gainesville, unsure of his next step in life. The summer after graduating, however, he received a call from Mac Hall, the Athletic Director and Head Football Coach of Oak Hall at the time, asking if he was interested in a position as an assistant football coach. He took the job and had much more involvement in the sports program that year as he was then given the opportunity to coach the junior varsity boys basketball team in the winter. In the spring, Pickens continued his involvement with Oak Hall sports and was the pitching coach for the baseball team. Alongside coaching, Pickens was also a substitute teacher at Oak Hall throughout the year as well as doing maintenance work around the school. The following school year, he was asked to teach an algebra and pre-algebra class. The prior year reminded Pickens of his love for Oak Hall as well as his respect for his teachers when he was a student, so he gladly took the opportunity. Eventually, Pickens ended up teaching 10th grade world history in addition to the math classes he taught and sports he coached. In his fourth year at Oak Hall, he began teaching eighth grade American history, the class he has been teaching ever since.
Pickens’ passion for teaching derives from his devotion to conceiving a plan that effectively utilizes a student’s time in the classroom. He aims to engage students in the content, as well as invoke discovery of the content. He uses his knowledge and skills as a coach and translates that to the classroom. “When you coach a basketball practice, you’re trying to make use of every single minute that you get. The ball is in their hands, you’re putting them in these situations and letting them work on these skills,” Pickens noted.