Spotlight on Faculty

CMST 223 – Public Speaking for Educators

By Ken White

CMST 223 – Public Speaking for Educators – is for students considering teaching as a career.  But the course is grounded in teaching as a human way of living.  Research shows that teaching is more effective when instructors share appropriately with students who they are as human beings, model thinking and deliberation, and guide learning with intentional methods.   CMST 223 offers lived experiences in disclosing one’s self, deliberating about a subject and facilitating dialogue.

The most important presentation in the class is the disclosing speech.  Its purpose is: 1) to have students share thoughts, feelings and experiences that describe who they are – what they care about and value; 2) to build classroom community through sharing (what Etienne Wenger calls a “community of practice”); and 3) to address communication anxiety.

The disclosing speech addresses student “stage fright” by having speakers use familiar objects to represent who they are.  During the speech, the object “de-centers the speaker.” It becomes a visual aid for the audience and a manipulative for the speaker designed to reduce stress by handling it.  Additionally, students can get “caught up” talking about the object and forget momentarily that they are giving a “speech.”

I model the speech with my wedding ring as the object.  The ring was engraved by a First Nation artist and depicts a frog sticking out his tongue.  It represents my Native American heritage, learning (the frog), and commitment to my wife, Holly.  But modeling is risky.  The ring has depth of meaning.  Besides signifying love, it holds memories of family and thirty-seven years of teaching.  It leads down many paths.  

I don’t know where I’ll end up. 

I may share a story about an angry dropout who entered my high school completion program at the college.  Brent challenged my authority every day.  He didn’t trust that I could be more concerned about his possibilities than about his past.  But trust grew and eventually he completed both high school and a two-year degree. 

I lost contact with Brent until years later when his mother showed up at my office.  She explained that he graduated from the University of Washington and was pursuing a master’s degree.   She wanted me to know that I had made a difference in his life.  At this point in the speech, I get caught up emotionally in the story that unfolds.  For a moment, I experience the mother’s next words:  “I also wanted to let you know because Brent was killed riding his bike to school a few months ago.”

Sharing my emotions is not an easy experience for new students.  But it sets a tone for the class. When communication exchanges intimate thoughts and feelings, it is a form of communion.  And communion can lead to community.  Students experience human connection.  They pick an object close to them.  They may share thoughts and feeling they didn’t expect.  They sometimes cry.  But they get through it.  They make friends and create the most supportive classroom community that I have ever experienced. 

On the way to teaching, they bring their humanity.

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