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VOL. 40 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 1, 2016

Principal Dyson: 'I’ve made myself a qualified candidate'

By Linda Bryant

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Kevin Dyson went back to school and now has two masters and is currently in school pursuing his doctoral degree.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

The Music City Miracle run. The outstretched hand reaching toward the goal line in Super Bowl XXXIV. When talk turns to the Tennessee Titans’ glory days and that magical 1999 season, Kevin Dyson’s name always comes up.

But, when football was over, Dyson wanted more out of life. And like many who must transition from one career to another, he needed to go back to school.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, and it’s taken 10 years, but this time, it appears his hand will reach over the goal line with a doctorate on the other side.

Dyson talked with The Ledger about his education and work life beyond the NFL.

How did you make the decision to make education your second career?

“Sometimes decisions or choices are made by circumstances. I knew I wanted to be around the game of football. I knew I had a lot to give back. At first, coaching was the natural choice. I didn’t necessarily know if I wanted to do it professionally, but I did want to see if I liked the challenge.

“There were parts of it that excited me – the Xs and Os, the potential to grow and move up the coaching ladder and being on the big stage of a big program. The idea of coaching felt a little similar to being recruited as a kid. But there were things that deterred me. There weren’t a whole lot of sick days or vacation time. There’s not a whole lot of time with your family.

“I decided to go down the middle rather than go after coaching with a very high profile. I started coaching in secondary education at Franklin Road Academy. Even when I was there I was still active in looking at more visible college coaching opportunities. I had a couple of coaching opportunities come up that fell through.

“After all that, I dug my heels in and decided to make the most of the opportunities in front of me.’’

How or why did you make the segue from coaching to teaching and educational leadership?

“When I got my first master’s degree I was primarily interested in being a coach and a leader. That degree is in education and leadership. I was in the private school sector, and I thought I was going to stay there. As it worked out, I moved over to public school.

“I didn’t have a teaching license so I needed to go back and take coursework for that. The second master’s is in teaching. I got that degree in 2010, and now I’m embarking on another journey and pursuing an Ed.D in leadership and professional practice.

Music City Miracle superstar Kevin Dyson has moved on with his life. He has two master’s degrees and will soon complete his doctorate, but football gave him, “instant credibility.’’

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“It’s been my dream to get my doctorate for a while, but I had to give up on it until this year because of other responsibilities related to job and family.’’

So you gradually decided that you wanted to concentrate more on education as a whole as opposed to coaching. Was it hard to give up the accolades of being a coach? What compelled you about being an educational leader?

“I always knew I wanted to give back. I had an idea I’d like to work with kids as far back as high school when I was tutoring elementary school kids.

“I remember coming back from college and talking to one of the kids I tutored who was an all-state basketball player who was telling me I was the reason he was successful.

“I just always had a heart for kids … I’m the oldest of four kids of a single mom. Even when you are playing (football), coaching or teaching you are still leading. It’s all intertwined. It’s rewarding giving back to kids who are still trying to find their way. It’s my way of putting my stamp on the world.

“Football often gives me a kind of instant credibility. I embrace that part of my bio. It’s opened doors for me. But once the doors are open, I had to do everything I could do to keep them open. I do love talking about my football journey and all its challenges.

“I like talking to kids about the process of success and all the work it takes. People, especially kids, often see the end result and the product; they don’t see the work that goes into it. I like to remind them about the effort put in on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.’’

Can you talk about what motivates you as well as what challenges you in your new life as an educator?

“I’m not usually a Type-A personality, but I am when it comes to certain things. Sometimes I get a strong focus and a kind of tunnel vision. It can cause me to neglect a lot of things, including people closest to me. I’ll automatically expect they will still be there even when I’m done.

“But of course, I need to attend to being a husband, father, friend and assistant principal, too. I’ve had to find the right balance. I can’t always say, “Hold on, I’ll be right with you. This will just take two years.”

“So No. 1, it’s important to find that healthy balance when it comes to your goals and desires. No. 2, it’s important to know going back to school is doable. It’s just a matter of your focus.

“For the last 10 years, I’ve used this phrase: “I wanted to be qualified so I was justified.”

“I didn’t want people whispering behind my back, “Oh, he got this because he’s Kevin Dyson.” If you look at my background and the work I’ve put in on this side of football, I’ve made myself a qualified candidate.

“I’m actually working to be good at what I’m doing now, not resting back on my past as a football player. I take pride in it.’’

How did you find your way to the program at Trevecca University?

“I had a couple of friends who went there. One friend completed his doctorate at Trevecca. He told me that the Trevecca program is conducive to the working life. It only takes a few Saturdays a month, the workload was doable. The whole thing sounded very appetizing to me. I needed something more flexible. Trevecca really does a good job of giving you the knowledge you need while understanding that you are a working adult. Their program isn’t easy, it’s not a cakewalk, but they understand you have a busy life outside of school.

“I didn’t want to be writing papers every night or go back to my undergrad days because my life was already so busy. There was even a time when I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t eating right or working out.

“Now I’ve gotten healthier on that side of things. You have to learn to put priorities in order. I’ve learned to focus on the academic side of things when I need to. I do think part of the challenge of preparing for a second career and going back to school lies in taking good care of yourself.

“I have met plenty of people transitioning to new careers and going back to school. It’s seemed to work for them, too. So, it helps to talk to others who’ve done the same thing.

“I’m doing an online program. I was initially scared of the program I’m in because of its online component. I didn’t start out as a huge computer person, but I’m figuring it out.’’

What’s a typical day for you?

“There is no typical day in education. If there’s anything that’s typical there are kids in the hallways when I get to work in the morning. There are days when I have parent meetings, an IEP (individualized education program) meeting, a classroom observation or a teacher’s meeting. Every day has its own challenges. Every season has its own challenges. You’ve got the Christmas break season when kids start to get a little crazy; you’ve got the testing season; you’ve got the Spring Break season.

“In the midst of all this you have all the sports seasons. Most of it is a lot of fun. That’s part of the beauty of education.’’

Do you have any advice for people who want to find a second career and go back to school?

“One thing’s for sure: There’s no time limit on education or pursuing another career. Even if you are retired and not working it’s valuable to pursue extended education. Continue to grow. Continue to keep your mind sharp. Continue to learn and balance all the things life has to offer. When you stop doing those things, that’s when you get old.

“I’ve been classes with people from 60 to 20. I’ve learned from all of them. I think people are often scared of the challenge and think they don’t want to take the time. But life is short.

“By August of 2018, I’ll have an achievement no one can take away from me. I will hopefully be called Dr. Dyson – the first in my family to ever be named that, the first in my family to get three postgraduate degrees.

“I never thought this would be possible. Now it’s almost a reality. And I’ve realized it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, it’s hard, but I just dug in. If it was easy to me, I wouldn’t appreciate it.

“When you put your blood sweat and tears into something, you really appreciate it when you’re finished. It wouldn’t be worth it to me if it weren’t a challenge.

“I knew I’d earned it when I got drafted (into professional football). I feel the same way about my new career and education. I’ve put the time and the sacrifice in. It’s very fulfilling.’’

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