There are some individuals who become aware, at a young age, of what it is that they wish to do with their lives. Although some people will inevitably change their minds as they get older or find a new path, others continue, steadfast, directly towards their original goal. For me, the latter rings true. Teaching was something I not only was interested in, but it was something which I could feel was going to be a calling in my life. Much of this is as a result of powerful and passionate educators who lead me to believe that great change could come as a result of teaching. I am lucky to say that I have not only been able to work at an incredible high school, but I also have the privilege of coaching here. It is due to these two roles which I play that I am able to connect with and form relationships with such a diverse group of students. I am able to work academically and athletically with youth from different ethnicities, cultures, genders, religions, socio-economic classes, etc. Although it is my job, in essence, to be the person teaching them, I can claim with undeniable conviction that they are more often than not teaching me.
This reciprocal education occurs for me in my classroom, but it also occurs through my work with UKSD. I am a teacher when I stand in my school building, but I am also a teacher when standing on an pitch, field, court, etc. Just because I might have to change from high heels to cleats, it doesn’t mean my purpose is any different. Anyone who has ever taught in any capacity will tell you that they have been met with the following question from students,“ Why do we need to know this? Will I ever even need to use this one day”? We do our best to respond with explanations as to why it’s so important to gain vast and diverse knowledge when you’re young and how you never know what tools you will need in the future. This is an age old discussion which will probably still be had hundreds of years from now, but what I find monumentally altering is that it is rare that this questions is asked to me after a UKSD program or session. No, I am not saying that it is because our sessions are more informative or relevant than school ( I wouldn’t teach if I thought this), but it it because we are less standardized in our programming and are able to use non traditional education in order to focus directly on life skills and leadership training. In a blunt sense, we are fortunate to be able to not only teach but directly show a young person how the lessons we share with them will have immediate impact on their lives and the lives of others. I don’t often hear “will I ever really need to use this one day” because they are required to use the skills we teach them immediately. It is with that immediacy that they begin to recognize the changes they see in themselves and start to have a better understanding of the person they would like to become.
At UKSD, we use soccer as the vehicle to reach our participants and enable them to truly see the potential they possess. We want our youth to take on leadership roles, to break out of their comfort zones, to integrate themselves with people much different from them, to become active members in fighting for change within their communities, to gain worldly understanding, and to commit to bettering their lives and the lives of others. There are many different programs and activities we use in order to help our participants delve into these challenges, and we stand beside them to support them along the way. Most importantly, we hold them accountable. There is a level of behavior and respect which is required to be a UKSD participant. It is our job to teach our youth that they are far more than just representations of themselves. In whatever it is that they are doing, they also represent their families, their schools, their teachers, their coaches, their communities, etc. Both their words and actions carry a weight that needs to be recognized and honored.
It is difficult to fully explain what it means to me as a teacher when I hear fellow educators speak about kids who are part of our program and tell me that they watched one of our participants do something such as advocate for a peer, be respectful of others, take a leadership role in a class activity, suggest a community service project, or that they have seen growth and maturity in them. I am not naive to think that these things happened simply because of their work with us. I know it is a combination of many factors in their lives. But this, this is the ultimate reward. Hearing that the life lessons, social skills, leadership training, community minded approach, and so much more have come to life in our kids is all we could ever ask for. Through and through, I am a teacher. We can all tell you that it’s not about the paycheck or the summers “off”; it’s about being able to see, first hand, that you helped a kid in recognizing the best version of themselves. I am so fortunate that I am able to see the thread which ties together my work as a UKSD coach and mentor with the work I do as a public school educator. So, to answer the kids, “ Will I ever even need to use this one day”? You already are, and I could not be more proud of you for that.