Teacher writes short story poetry over career, publishes book.
Retired teacher David Salvaggio uses poetry to document his decades as a California educator in his book “Restless Gold: Musings About California’s Pupils and Other Verses.”
Most of the poems are nonfictional, about students and a few about himself and other staff members from his time at Moreno Valley High School. The poems, written between 1980 and 2020, don’t pull back from uncomfortable topics or words heard in the classroom. Rather, Salvaggio has a way of turning classroom incidents into teachable moments.
One poem shares the fears of his first day as a teacher. Another poem wonders what happened to that quiet kid who shot his dad. There’s a story of one student who had never read a book or knew that a book could be so good. He writes about connections with former students over social media. Humor alternates with serious subjects.
The book also is his way of connecting with educators. “I want to let teachers know not only what I’ve been through but what other teachers have gone through in their careers. I want to help new teachers just starting out, thinking ‘This is what I have to look forward to.’ By the time you finish reading the book, it ends on a positive note.”
Tell us about your career and writing
Salvaggio taught high school English, American literature, drama and history. While he spent the bulk of his career in Moreno Valley, Salvaggio worked in other places in southern California, including temporary jobs and substitute teaching. He also wrote a play in 1999, which was performed for nine weeks in West Hollywood.
Salvaggio plans to write another book, this one about growing up a PK—preacher’s kid. “It was not an easy childhood. Because I am gay, and my dad and mom were both ordained ministers, they were not progressive. A little of that is in the book, ‘Restless Gold,”’ but things got better. My dad, surprisingly later in life, began to question things. My mom came around, too, after he died.”
Why did you become a teacher?
Salvaggio traces his experience as a gay preacher’s kid and a student to becoming a teacher.
“I loved to play with dolls with the girls at school and with my sister. I wasn’t good at sports. My parents thought I was purposely acting like that. But even in elementary school, I knew I wasn’t putting on an act. That’s how I was.
“The adults who were really kind to me and loved me unconditionally were those sweet old ladies at Sunday school. And teachers at school, mostly female, they loved me. Most of them are gone, but I remember their names and how kind they were to me. They gave me some hope that I was worth something. I used to want to stay after class. The teachers were offering something. The maps on the walls, the places I dreamed of going. Now I’ve gone to most of them. Education inspired me to travel. There’s a whole world out there. You never forget your favorite teachers.”
Who were your favorite teachers?
One was Salvaggio’s fifth grade teacher in Santa Ana. “She was loving and kind but firm and strict in her rules. She smiled when it was the right time to smile and showed frustration when it was the right time to do that.”
Another favorite was his music and drama teacher. “I think she knew I was gay. She just loved and accepted me.”
What’s the one thing you’re proud of doing as a teacher?
“Surviving. There were times I didn’t think I was going to make it to 60 to retire. I was burned out and ready to retire at 50. I kept teaching and I’m proud of myself. It was hard but there were so many good things that kept me in school.” Salvaggio said staff members and good students made a big difference.
Knowing the value of support, he is proud of starting the first Gay Student Alliance in his school district in 2004.
“All that is in the book. I learned from my students. We ended up learning together. Education is just a wonderful experience of learning, on both ends. Teachers, students, parents, other staff members. We have problems of course, and that’s in the book, too. But the poems are mostly about students. It celebrates the good, the wonderful, the success and the very bad. The extremes and the in-betweens. Some of my students are millionaires or are highly successful. And some students are in prison for murder.”
What’s one fun thing about you?
“I love to laugh. I have a good sense of humor. I think that’s what helped me survive throughout the years. I was able to see the humor in almost everything.
What are you doing in retirement, besides publishing your book?
Salvaggio loves to write, read and play the piano. He’s a political activist and enjoys gardening and traveling around the world. He especially loves Europe.
"I am enjoying my pension very much! After teaching for 35 years, I can live safely and comfortably knowing that my monthly pension from CalSTRS is more than adequate income for me. Thank you, CalSTRS, CTA, NEA!"
Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email Communications@CalSTRS.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.