School misses cancer-stricken teacher

Skinner undergoing treatment

Carmel Del Mar fifth grade teacher David Skinner has been away from his classroom since January undergoing treatment for throat cancer. Skinner still has a presence in his classroom though; there is a photo of him on the whiteboard taken during the first day of his chemotherapy with a sign that reads: “Be good. I’m watching you.”

“I know that the children and the families miss him very much,” said CDM Principal David Jones, who has worked with Skinner for the last six years. “They appreciate the sense of warmth and caring he has about kids.”

Jones said Skinner is an effective teacher because he builds such deep relationships with his students; they connect with him and feel safe with him. He added that Skinner is calm, levelheaded and trustworthy, and is a person he knows he can go to when he needs help solving a problem.

Jones said Skinner is also well respected by his fellow teachers, especially as the volunteer president of the Del Mar California Teachers Association.

“You know he will give you a well thought-out answer,” Jones said. “You can tell that he is sincere and that he wants to come up with the best outcome for children.”

The accolades from his students are just as high.

“He’s really funny and nice,” said both Sara Nakamura and Mikayla Vosseller.

“He’s sarcastic about a lot of things,” added Mikayla.

Seung Jo Woo said he likes when Skinner playfully teases his students and everyone in class gets to laugh.

“We have so much fun with him and he always forgives us if we do something wrong,” Seung Jo said.

In addition to his duties as a classroom teacher, Skinner also spends summers working the school district’s Children’s Creative Workshop. His popular class is Skinner’s Speed Shop where he helps kids design their own “lightning quick” cars and airplanes.

Speed is something Skinner seems to love, especially on a skateboard, said student Miles Rogodino.

All of his students looked forward to Thursdays, the day when Skinner would take them “butt-boarding,” where they sit on a skateboard and luge down a small hill on the CDM campus.

The students say they really miss having him in class.

“I miss him a lot — he is a great teacher,” Miles said.

Skinner was diagnosed on Dec. 18 — the phone call came in the middle of class just before Christmas break. After he hung up he went back to the classroom and continued teaching, a few tears slipping out.

Skinner retells the story on his blog on

, showing off his trademark sarcasm with the line, “This year I got cancer for Christmas.”

His blog lets his friends inside an experience with cancer that words often fail to describe — headaches like jackhammers, the inability to speak, sleep or taste food, and the uncontrollable pain.

“I don’t know how you people say you ‘battle’ cancer and treatment. My experience has been that you just suffer through it and hope for the best and cry when you can’t take it anymore,” wrote Skinner. “Hopefully someone is there to pat your hand or say something nice. Not much brave battling. More surrendering than anything.”

He has found comfort in the support of his family and friends and in Special K chocolate protein shakes. The one positive side of his sleeplessness was that it allowed him to watch much of the 24-hour coverage of the Winter Olympics.

Mostly, he said, he misses his students just as much as they miss him.

“I think of you each and every day and wonder what sorts of things you are up to and what important detail did I forget to teach you,” wrote Skinner in a letter to his students. “Oh, well, that is the first lesson of this whole thing: You don’t get to control everything that happens to you.”