Monday, March 20, 2017

No More Public Speaking Class

About a month ago, I got this email from a student whose name was not familiar to me:

Hello Dr. Curry.  This is one of the students here at Calvert Middle School. I would like to request you to come to my speech. It’s one of our class projects that we are doing in school and I would like to invite you personally. It will be in about two weeks here in the class and I have been working really hard because I think this should be heard.  Sam

In my work, I am always intrigued by that student who reaches out and contacts me on his own and tells me that what they are working on is important to see.  I didn’t hesitate to make a commitment.

As it turned out, I wasn’t able to see Sam’s speech when he did it in class, but I did arrange for him to present it with accompanying slides for his principal and me in the principal’s office last week.  His presentation was titled “Standardized Tests – Useful or Useless.”   He did a great job making the argument that too much time was spent on testing with too little benefit.  He was articulate, did his research, cited appropriate sources and made a compelling argument.  When he was done, he answered questions on the topic from the principal and me with confidence and maturity. 

Although he was only in 8th grade, I immediately recruited him to be a future teacher for us – promising him employment upon college graduation.

Fifty years ago, when I was starting high school, there was one class at my high school that was required of all who were planning on college – speech class in the junior year.  It was a full-credit year-long class focused on public speaking in a variety of settings.  How to think on your feet.  How to debate.  How to take a position and defend it from your research.  It also included poetry, reader’s theater and scenes from plays.

Sam prepared this presentation for his English class.  We don’t have such things as a separate class for speech or communications these days for those who are college bound.  We do, however, have standards for English Class which call for the student to:

  • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
  • Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
  • Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

I liked speech class so much that I took Speech II my senior year.   And eventually minored in Speech and Drama in College.  Years later I returned to my college campus for the retirement of the head of the Speech Department and she asked me if I was ever able to use what I learned in college.

"Only every day," I told her.  See the above bullets.  If that’s not a big part of the job description for school superintendent, I don’t know what is.  That’s why I asked Sam to consider being a teacher, then principal, then superintendent.