Youth Voice Spotlight: Q&A with Michael Rutledge, CBHS Wolverine Debate Coach

Ryan Williams, DukeEngage Intern
June 26th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized

This month, MENTOR is highlighting not only the people, corporations, and organizations that work to empower youth to use their voice but also incredible youth who are using their voices in innovative ways. In honor of this month, I went back and interviewed someone who left an undeniably positive impact on my life’s trajectory: my high school debate coach, mentor, and friend, Michael Rutledge. Michael has coached nationally recognized high school debaters, school valedictorians, and internationally rewarded innovators. Here is what he had to say about the intersection of teaching, mentoring, and uplifting youth.

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Can you briefly describe your current role at Clear Brook High School?

Currently, I am the Speech/Debate Coach/Director for a competitive local, state and nationally recognized team of high school students.  I am also the UIL Campus Coordinator and an English support teacher.  In these roles, I work with some of Clear Brook High School’s most motivated and accomplished students who strive to excel and just need the opportunity to “spread their wings and fly” as they seek guidance in performance and intellectual pursuits.

What made you want to enter the field of teaching/coaching debate?

Throughout my four high school years, I was a speech/debate/theatre “nerd” and in that pursuit, I was able to interact with a very involved and truly caring, forward-thinking woman named Gloria Walter. She afforded me the opportunity to experience events and engagements that impacted my life in a very positive way. She helped me become involved in speaking, acting, and debating events that allowed me to develop my “personhood” as well as introduced me to a community of like-minded individuals that I could identify with as my growth as a student was underway.  These are the things that I try to provide to my students every day.

How have you seen your role as a teacher evolve into the role of a mentor for the students you teach and coach?

In the beginning, my job was about “teaching” because that was my title and because I had a naive interpretation of my role.  As I grew and began to develop relationships with my students, the mentor aspect – coupled with my memories of being mentored by my coach – took over and I became more invested in my students and wanted them to be invested in me and in what I have grown to love as a life skill.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from teaching? What about coaching debate?

You have to be able and willing to take calculated risks to benefit your students.  To that end, I’ve also learned that not all of the things that a teacher “has to do” are ideal, but those that you really MUST do are ones that will allow you to better allocate your time for the benefit for students. And you have to be yourself at all times but be vulnerable when it’s necessary and appropriate.  It’s about relationship building and honesty.

What fond memory do you have, if any, of our mentor-mentee relationship?

The fond memory I have of you is the manner in which you willingly began our [middle school debate club] initiative to keep our program growing.  You were very diligent about communicating with the kids and planning activities for our meetings, and are responsible for the fruits that we will see this year from that endeavor.  We didn’t see much from it last year but this year our Debate I numbers have almost doubled from last year, and that’s, in large part, because of you.  You were also very dedicated to helping novice members during your junior and senior years which was invaluable. 

What impact can teachers have as mentors in the lives of their students?

I believe a teacher’s greatest impact as a mentor is the ability to display what being a real person is to a “mentee.”  Without being genuine and unique, the future is hollow and just a representation of what one “thinks” it should be, not what it could be if s/he were who s/he really is.  Skills can be taught but being who you ARE has to be shown and lived.

What advice do you have for teachers or coaches who are thinking about ways in which they can mentor their students?

My advice to anyone who wants to mentor is to be who you are and not to back down in the face of questioning.  Mentors need to be real and need to be engaging when it comes to dialogue. Consider changing the small things that can make your words more impactful; embrace correction and criticism but, above all, never change who you are.

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Ryan Williams is a DukeEngage summer intern on the Marketing and Communications team. He is a rising sophomore at Duke majoring in Political Science.

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