Photo by Jeff Vorva
By Jeff Vorva
and Tina Butler
Kevin Lee is back home in Oak Lawn.
For how long is anyone’s guess.
Since he graduated in 2007, he’s been a lot of places. While he probably can’t compete with the country song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” keep in mind he’s just 25. He has time.
He’s crammed a lot of living in recent years but for now he’s back home and is a math teacher’s aide at Richards after seven years of playing college baseball at Iowa, teaching in Atlanta, getting a master’s degree in education at Harvard and following the rock band The Youngest all around the Midwest for a film documentary.
His homecoming actually came about because of a homecoming game. This fall, he attended the homecoming game at Oak Lawn High School, which hosted Richards.
While the Bulldogs were taking care of business on the field, Lee was in the stands with some friends and they engaged in a conversation with a guy about American linguist Noam Chomsky.
It’s probably not all that often that the visiting stands of the Oak Lawn football stadium finds a group of people dropping quotes from a man who wrote books titled “How the World Works,” “Government in the Future” and “Getting Haiti Right This Time.’’
But in this case, it worked and fate had it that the man they were talking to was the vice principal of Richards, Mike Jacobson. Jacobson asked Lee if he was interested in a job at Richards and now Lee is back at a teacher’s assistant and pitching coach.
And he has a message he wants to get out there to every student he meets.
School doesn’t suck.
Lee doesn’t mince words about his profession and he hopes to drill that in his students’ heads.
“I am very interested in education policy and would like to shift kids mentality from ‘school sucks’ to ‘school is our opportunity.’ ” Lee said and added that he wants to find ways to make it beneficial and enjoyable for all involved.
Lee’s career path to this entry-level job at his alma-mater had several twists and turns.
Lee, who said he is related to former major league pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, was a pitcher for the Bulldogs and was recruited by the University of Iowa. His junior season, he set the school record with 13 saves in 2010. During his career, he pitched in an exhibition game against Iowa Triple-A Cubs and said he struck out future major leaguer Eric Patterson.
But injuries hindered his baseball career and teaching became a new love for him. After leaving Des Moines, he headed to Atlanta to teach at a high school for a couple of years and then headed to Harvard to work on his master’s degree.
After spending time on the movie and rock scene, he is back at his school and is ready to share his enthusiasm for education to his students and players.
Although he is teaching math, Lee said an English teacher helped shape his career.
“Mr. [Albert] Teunissen influenced me in a positive way and had made an impact on my life,” Lee said. “I learned how to write at Richards from Mr. Teunissen, and he's one of the only reasons I got into Harvard. My test scores were [poor], but they loved my public school background, success in Teach For America and writing style.’’
The former Kolmar Elementary School student said that getting into Harvard wasn’t impossible.
“I took the GRE test and wrote a statement of purpose. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be,’’ Lee said. “I did wonder and worry if I have enough in common with my classmates. I was happy to discover these people were like everyone else and they weren't all [Mark] Zuckerbergs. Also, I'd like to send the message to kids out there about Harvard University and that it is not as daunting or out of reach for regular people. And don't worry about new situations because that’s how we all grow.
“I chose Harvard because they had a great education policy and film program,’’ he added. “And I also thought, ‘hey, I got into Harvard. It's probably too expensive for my South Side bank account, but I probably should go anyways.’ The master's program was only one year so I figured what the heck.’ ’’