An Interview with Andy Lerner
Andy Lerner is a Chess Master and member of the Board of Directors at Chess in the Schools. He is the Managing Partner of IA Capital Group, a venture capital firm. With his generous support,…
> Chess in the Schools is happy to welcome Epah Jere, CIS’s new chess instructor. This interview helps understand what brought Epah to our team.
Q: You are the most recent addition to CIS’s instructor team. Welcome! We are so excited to have you! What brought you to Chess in the Schools?
> A: My desire and passion for chess. I wanted to have a job or career I derive so much joy in. So to me, teaching chess is like getting paid while having fun. I don’t feel like I work when I’m teaching chess.
> Q: What are your first impressions? What do you like most about this job?
> A: I fell in love with Chess in the Schools from the moment I had an interview with the director. They told me a little about it and how they mostly work with unprivileged communities. To me that struck me to my heart simply because I feel like I identify with these communities. I come from Zambia, Africa, [where] we’re not on the same page as USA. So when I got the opportunity to work with the less privileged communities, I thought this was bringing me home somehow because I identify with some of the challenges the children in the program deal with. Like in the Bronx where I teach, majority of the kids are immigrants. I’m an immigrant. So I feel like I’m at home because I identify with their challenges.
> Q: What inspires you to work with the kids?
> A: I started playing chess as a child. And as a result, chess has been a part of me. It has stemmed many great attributes. For example, I’m a great problem solver. I’m able to see things from different perspective. I have a broad spectrum. I don’t view things from just one lens. And that’s pretty much what happens in chess. You have so many variations to think about before making a move. So if I can impart that in another person, specifically in children, especially girls—I’m so passionate about girls because female representation remains low in chess. Oh my god, it melts my heart.
> Q: Why do you think chess is good for children?
> A: First of all, it enhances one’s critical thinking. And even emotional well being. Each time I lost a game of chess, I would breakdown into tears and things like that. But with time, I was able to develop my emotional stamina and I’m able to view it as a game. There are many things happening in your little heart when you lose a pawn or when you blunder a Queen. And you have to go on and fall ahead— and it sort of builds you emotionally. You become stronger. For me you don’t lose, you learn. I see children transforming to embrace loss and embrace learning.
> Q: Are there any challenges that come with being a chess instructor?
> A: As a teacher you always want to see—when you draw a graph of progress— you want to see it upwards. So you’ve been teaching the four move checkmate and how to stop it and then you show up to a tournament and then boom— 8 of your students lost in 4 moves. And then I think if maybe it’s a question of repetition or the way I teach. Do I need to change my angle or techniques of teaching? Sometimes students are demotivated and sometimes I see students sleeping. And I ask the teacher what’s going on, and she tells me that the child has ABCD going on, and such, they are unable to give you the full attention you deserve in class. Another challenge I bring to myself is learning Spanish. Most of the communities I work with are conversing in Spanish. And I know zero Spanish. So sometimes I deal with language barriers. So I’ve been trying to identify squares and pieces in Spanish. And I’ve challenged myself to learn these things over the summer.
> Q: Do you have any hobbies other than chess?
> A: I love cooking. My family loves my cooking. That’s what I love to do. I love exploring new recipes. Just to go on YouTube or google and try new recipes. I love my kitchen so much.