From public school teacher to Outward Bound instructor

School teacher Kerry Lubin (lower right in hat) with students at Philadelphia Outward Bound School some 20 years ago.

A guest blog post by Kerry Lubin

When I was a kid, my elementary school didn’t have a physical education teacher, so I ended up going to the library to get books on how to play football and basketball, and I taught myself how to play.

Then I taught the neighborhood kids how to play. Seeing that I could take a skill and break it down to learn it and then teach it was a success for me. So I decided at a young age that I wanted to be a physical education teacher.

I taught PE in Philadelphia for 34 years. I loved working with children and I also worked at overnight and day camps during those years. I wouldn’t change my teaching career for anything. I enjoyed all of it.

It was at Rush Middle School that I started with Outward Bound. The head of the Philadelphia PE department arranged meeting with the Philadelphia Outward Bound School (POBS) in Fairmount Park. I went to that meeting and liked what I heard. Taking students backpacking in the woods? I was hooked!

“Perhaps the greatest benefit of these expeditions is when students start to see their teacher in a whole new light.”

The next thing I knew I was chaperoning a crew of 7th graders on a five-day backpacking trip along the Appalachian trail. It was hard on the students, however these students were motivated, resilient, and refused to quit.

Kerry Lubin and students on a POBS Urban Expedition.

Then I learned that POBS had created a five-day urban backpacking trip that took place in and around Philadelphia, so I began taking my students on these new urban expeditions, which I found fun and unique.

We canoed and camped out near Valley Forge, came back to the POBS location in the Wissahickon, and slept in the treehouse there. We climbed the ropes course and headed back into the city to feed the homeless at the church on 3rd and Race streets, sleeping that night on a sailboat at Penn’s Landing. We also slept at the Zoo where we did a nighttime scavenger hunt and in the morning got a tour of the zoo before it opened.

I took 13 more trips, all of them Urban expeditions.

A highlight for me on any expedition is working with students who have no idea how to pack backpacks, set up camp, prep and cook meals, or travel from one place to another by reading a map, and watching them grow day by day, both individually and as team, so that by the final day they are fully in charge of the expedition.

Kerry Lubin (left) and students at POBS former location. Note instructor Jennifer Raymond in the foreground (center), who years later would encourage Lubin to become an Outward Bound instructor.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of these expeditions is when students start to see their teacher in a whole new light. They learn that not only is their teacher human too, they are someone who is there to offer support and encouragement, a fellow crew member who is undergoing the same challenges and engaged in the same tasks as the students.

A particular highlight for me was at course graduation after the students presented their certificates to each other. The instructor said he was going to give me my certificate and one of the students said, “No, I want to give Mr. Lubin his certificate, for taking us on this trip.”

The lessons on expedition and the changes in students’ connection with each other and with their teacher (me!) continued after course was over. Back at school it felt like we had established a new, expanded connection between us. And at home, my wife remarked that I had returned with a glow about me. I was so excited about the trip I couldn’t wait to set up the next one!

After I retired I still felt like I had a lot to offer and I wanted something to keep me occupied, but I wanted it to be something meaningful. I was on Facebook one day and long-time Outward Bound instructor Jenn Raymond friended me and suggested I come work for POBS. The rest is history!

Kerry Lubin (right) as a POBS instructor this year.

This past year was my second as a POBS instructor, and working with both students and adults has been exhilarating. Watching adults have fun like they are children again is a thrill for me. And I love coaching people and watching them meet their goals. But it is seeing students and adults conquer their fears that is the greatest joy for me.

I’m not sure there is a better feeling than that of being a POBS instructor. Working at POBS is the best “retirement job” I could have imagined!