Pride Month Spotlight: Lily Teske

Lily High Five

For Pride Month, we’re proud to spotlight one of our valued community members (and the MVP of our MDAW staff!), Lily Teske.

Lily Teske serves as the assistant coach for Murray Middle School. MNUDL uses a model where current high school debaters grow their skills and earn a stipend while assisting a middle school debate team, generally at the middle school they attended or a feeder school for their own high school. For her leadership, Lily earned the 2022 Student Coach of the Year award for our middle school national topic debate program. Find her thoughts, shared in a Zoom call with our AmeriCorps VISTA, Skye, below: 


How debate prepared her to be a coach/educator:


“I think debate itself actually prepared me really well for being in a teaching role. You have no idea what’s going to happen in a round. You might need to quickly pull together some cards or just come up with arguments on the spot. I think that prepared me really well for adjusting my lessons on the spot based on where the students are at that day or turning a situation or a question they have into a teachable moment.”


How debate skills help her lead in other contexts:


“Last year for Trans Day of Visibility, I helped organize a protest, and that definitely involved similar skills. There’s the actual organization of getting people together and getting them to do something. Then there’s figuring out all the details, and being able to arrange those, and finally present everything through public speaking. I definitely got those skills from debate. Civic engagement and community organizing is at the intersection of a lot of debate skills. The public speaking aspect of presenting things to a public audience, and then the organizational side of debate helps with the paperwork, the organizing people, the logistics – and there’s also the community part of it too.”


What she learned, and is learning, from debate


“Exploring systems of power was a very formative experience for me and a key part of the knowledge I gained from debate was how to think critically about things and question systems of power. As a middle schooler, those conversations weren’t normal or expected for me. It was a really impactful experience to debate people with different perspectives and experiences than me concerning topics like racism and immigration. I don’t know if I would have had them otherwise, growing up with the privilege I did. 


That’s something I want to see more of in debate. It’s really impactful and really important to see how these topics in debate are actually impacting people like real life. To think and learn beyond the game that is debate is just as important to me.Students are ready and want to have those conversations that are going to be at a different level. And it can be hard when people are personally invested and have a connection to the topic, but I am ready to help them have these conversations.”


On diversity in debate & her role in it as a coach


“When it comes to my gender identity, debate feels like one of the most inclusive spaces for me, which is really impressive. That is so different from the world as a whole. And honestly, that’s why debate is the space where I feel comfortable taking a leadership role. If anywhere else you were having a conversation about your identity, it’s probably going to be because of a serious issue or situation that’s occurred. In debate, there’s a different framework for the discussion. Both sides have the understanding that it is a theoretical discussion in some ways, we aren’t necessarily attacking anyone for their identity or their privilege. We are discussing what the best thing to do about these serious issues are. I think it’s a very unique environment. There aren’t very many other places where you can have these kinds of conversations.”


Help more amazing students like Lily build leadership skills as assistant coaches. Fund stipends with your donation!