After leading the Bulldogs through their last campaign as the captain of the women’s soccer team, Jenny Butwin ’13 has returned to the team this year as a volunteer assistant. But her main responsibilities in New Haven will come as a new kindergarten teacher at the Barnard Environmental Studies magnet school, where she will be working as part of the Teach for America program. In an interview with the News, Butwin said she is happy to be following her lifelong passion of being a teacher while simultaneously being able to coach her other lifelong passion of soccer.
Q: What is it like coming back to Yale for the first time and not being a student?
A: It feels really good to be back. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I miss being a team member. I miss being a Yale undergrad. It is very refreshing, though. When I came back I felt at home and I’m just glad to be back again. Change is good.
Q: How did you decide to get involved in Teach For America?
A: I’ve always wanted to be a teacher first and foremost. A lot of members of Teach for America are leaders in their field, but I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. It spawned from my experience of working with students and members of the New Haven community. Teachers are role models. I’ve always been that underdog student and athlete and have had to work really hard to see success. It’s important to me to instill in these students the values of work ethic and patience even though they might not see instant gratification. Teach for America’s core values are teamwork and leadership and I pride myself in putting the team before myself and being able to lead the team even though I may not be playing myself.
Q: What has your experience with TFA been like so far? What do you enjoy most?
A: The training for TFA is very intensive. They are taking recent college undergrads and preparing them to be strong teachers. It’s called “institute” and some days involve waking up at 4 am. Some of the most rewarding experiences I had were while teaching at summer school in the Bronx. The kids have been the most rewarding part of the experience. One of my students from summer school in the Bronx, Lewis, calls me every other day.
Q: How did the Yale coaching staff influence your decision to come coach? Did you reach out or did they?
A: I’ve kept in very close contact with [head coach Rudy Meredith and assistant Todd Plourde]. I consider them family and I owe almost everything to them … When I found out I was going to be teaching so close by, I called Rudy up and said “Rudy, you know I’m doing TFA right?” He said, “Yeah.” I then called him later and said, “You won’t believe this, but they placed me in Connecticut.” I then called and told him I was placed in New Haven. Finally, when I was placed at Barnard, I called him up and said, “Rudy, you won’t believe this. I’m teaching 30 seconds from the soccer field.” He just laughed. I could have been placed anywhere in the U.S., but I ended up 30 seconds from my field. You just can’t make this stuff up. I just wanted to stay involved so Rudy asked if I wanted to be a volunteer assistant coach. Teaching is my primary job but everyone needs a hobby. It requires my attendance at games that I would be at anyway; it requires my support, which I would give to my friends anyway. It was just too perfect to say no to.
Q: What is it like coaching many of your former teammates?
A: Well I haven’t been too involved yet. We’re still working with the coaches to figure out exactly what my job will entail. Not much has changed since my position as captain. When I was on the team, the staff asked me for advice. I know the game well. I’m also a conduit to the coaching staff. Having that extra person there who knows the girls on a personal level helps out a lot.
Q: Do players on the team like having a coach who is basically their age?
A: They look at me as a coach and as friend and hopefully as a leader. I’ve always been able to strike a balance as a leader of the team and as a friend. They’re happy to have a familiar face nearby. While some might not feel comfortable talking to the coaches, they do feel comfortable talking to me and that makes the communication on the team that much better.
Q: Do you see any similarities or take anything away from your experience with TFA that you can apply to coaching and vice-versa?
A: I think a big part of why I was accepted into the TFA program was because of my leadership. I consider myself a leader, someone that leads by example. I’m not talking about MVP here. To me, being a leader was always rooting for my teammates and always pushing my teammates to be better. Those are the kind of people TFA accepts into their core. Being able to talk to a kindergartner isn’t all that different from talking to adults. Basic life skills to be a person and a friend are things some 23 year olds haven’t mastered yet. Learning how to treat a teammate and friend is something that I learned being a leader for the team and has really helped me treat my kindergarteners the same way. My kids at Barnard and the girls on the team are really two different families for me.