This week CoachSark.com spoke with former University of Washington offensive lineman Mykenna Ikehara as a part of our Competitor Tuesday feature. Ikehara graduated this past spring and is now a teacher in O’ahu as a member of Teach For America. He retired from football after the 2010 season due to injuries, but as you can read below, he was able to find a new channel for his work ethic and competitive spirit.
CoachSark.com: What is more difficult: Playing in front of 70,000 fans in a hostile environment or teaching a room of 3rd graders?
Mykenna Ikehara: Oh man. That’s like asking if Coach Ivan’s [Strength Coach Ivan Lewis] left or right bicep is bigger. I teach Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade special education. It’s challenging, but to have the opportunity to be such an important asset in a child’s life, especially at such a critical junction in their development is something that rivals the responsibility of playing in front of 70,000 fans.
CS: Scariest day in the classroom?
MI: It’s a different kind of scary. It’s definitely not the kind of immediate fear and feeling of impending doom you feel when you’re sprinting to make morning workouts at 5:50 in the mornings. I didn’t fully comprehend the gravity of the situation I had walked in to, or its accompanying responsibility until I walked into my classroom on the first day of school and saw those faces staring at me. That was a whole different kind of scary.
CS: Best day in the classroom?
MI: Every day is the best day in my classroom. I always tell my kids that they can make what they want of the day – my hope is that they choose to make it their best.
CS: What are you and your students working on right now?
MI: Sequencing, double digit addition, basic civics, the water cycle, but what I’m really passionate about is working on becoming a multi grade team. Like I said earlier I teach K-3rd grade and the varying levels of maturity are really apparent when kids are so young, so I want everyone to understand their role on our team. We’re working on becoming a team of community contributors, independent problem solvers, complex thinkers, leaders and lifelong learners.
CS: I hear that your school mascot is a pug.
MI: Well I tried to get it changed to a Husky, but as my roommate Cody Bruns always tells me, “C’est la vie.”
CS: Do the students know of your past life?
MI: No. But I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only teachers whose students spell “dog” “Dawg.” I guess that’s a little instructional bias on my part.
CS: Who was the best teacher that you ever had?
MI: Coach Dan Cozzetto. That man taught me that when life comes to blows, you better fight back. He coaches and teaches with integrity – it’s something I always try to embody when I’m teaching and ultimately would like to see in my kids. The life lessons he taught me were so impactful on my development as a player and as a person that even though my athletic career didn’t end the way I wanted it to, I feel like I got something with a far greater transitive value than 4 years of actual football gave me.
CS: What does it mean to be serving as a part of Teach For America a short drive from where you grew up back Hawaii?
MI: Well I’ll be honest…it takes me about an hour and a half to get to work and about the same to get home. Traffic is pretty ridiculous. Seriously though, I’m so glad to have the opportunity to give back to the island and community I grew up in and on. I feel like I have a great opportunity and privilege to share the things I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had.
CS: It is all surfing and sunshine, right?
MI: And Mai Tais and luaus. I think the stereotypical perceptions and preconceived notions of life in paradise hit the wall pretty hard in certain areas on O’ahu. I teach at a Title 1 school, with over 90% of the students on free or reduced lunch. A huge percentage of students are English Language Learners, and as a whole students are not privy to the things that we see on TV – it’s a little difficult to live and teach in that kind of juxtaposition sometimes.
CS: How did football prepare you for life after it?
MI: It taught me to not quit. I don’t mean the kind of quitting where you quit the job and leave, but the kind of quitting that leaves one going through the motions, being there in body but not in mind or in spirit. It taught me to celebrate the small things, to appreciate the camaraderie of the grind, to move quickly over failures, to learn from my mistakes. It taught me that humor can move mountains, and negativity can sink ships. It taught me about how to function in as well as lead a team, to identify salient, relevant and achievable objectives. Football is a crazily effective medium for delivering some of the intangible life skills and lessons that are so applicable in our daily lives.
CS: What does a win in the classroom look like for you and the students?
MI: A win for me would manifest itself in my kids becoming independent and self sufficient. The goal of any special education teacher is to develop your student to a point of independence where they no longer need the services you provide, as well as giving the student the tools they need to excel in a general education environment. A win for me also looks like beating WSU. I guess that’s a bit of a non-sequitur though yeah? Whoops.
CS: Teach For America aims to end the achievement gap and to help our nation’s underserved students. What role do you play in as a teacher in this?
MI: I think I might have already alluded to this if not said it, but my role and responsibility is to provide the best opportunities for life long success for my students. Teachers have such an incredible opportunity to provide and instill truly transformational and life changing mindsets in their students – and I’m trying my best to do this.
CS: What are you competing towards? What drives you?
MI: My students drive me. The small successes drive me. The fear of failure and the lure of providing incredible opportunities to my kids drive me. Every day is Competition Tuesday in my classroom, minus the 9 on 7 and other football related drills. I try my hardest to instill a sense of urgency in my students. The time for success is always now, and it’s never too late to change mindsets.
CS: Mr. Mykenna Ikehara in 20 years:
MI: Married. Kids. A big, fluffy dog. And pictures of all 19 of my current students at their college graduations on my refrigerator.
CS: Best memory as a Husky?
MI: Every day was a great memory. Being a Husky for the time that I was at the UW was an incredible privilege and opportunity and is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. But memories like beating USC in 2010 for our first road win under Coach Sark aren’t bad snippets to recollect either.
CS: Who is your favorite Husky on this team?
MI: Without a doubt Deontae Cooper. The man’s enthusiasm is contagious and I think that he embodies the true Husky spirit and the characteristics that comprise it.
My second favorite Huskies? My roommates Drew Schaefer and Cody Bruns. I miss you guys!