To successfully practice teaching one must constantly be learning. My first day teaching a college-level public speaking course was reminiscent of my experience in speech class as an undergraduate student. As a teacher, I addressed the class on the topic of public speaking anxiety, all the while experiencing the physical symptoms of nervousness that I remembered from delivering class presentations in college. After presenting research findings that public speaking is the most reported fear among Americans, I took questions from the class. A student sitting near the front of the room raised their hand and asked me, “Since public speaking is clearly not one of your fears, what are you afraid of?” This question caught me off guard, and after considering for a moment I responded that I experienced some degree of public speaking anxiety every time I addressed an audience, and that my experience speaking before groups helped me speak with confidence and conviction despite my nerves. This interaction helped me connect with my students and served to highlight the relationship between the practice of teaching and the very public speaking skills being taught in the class. This experience also encompasses the sense of exhilaration and challenge that teaching can provoke, as well as the feeling of fulfillment that accompanies a successful class session.
My teaching philosophy has continually evolved throughout my two years instructing speech communication as a graduate teaching associate. Although the development of my personal pedagogical approach is an ongoing process, several key themes have emerged during these formative years of my teaching career that direct my overall approach: self-reflexivity, fostering individual expression, and cultivating collaborative environments. These three elements comprise the core of my teaching philosophy, and guide my decision-making when designing a course and conducting individual class meetings. While every class is unique, each student who completes one of my public speaking courses is guaranteed to have confronted their public speaking anxiety, discovered their unique speaking “voice,” and collaborated with their peers in a positive environment conducive to learning and self-empowerment.
While at the University of Central Florida I’ve taught a course titled “fundamentals of technical presentations.” This introductory public speaking course is designed for students whose major areas of study are in technical fields such as engineering, computer science, and biomedical programs. The curriculum emphasizes how to communicate specialized and technical information so that someone unfamiliar with the subject could reasonably understand it. Class meetings are divided into lectures and lab sessions, with lecture classes presenting theoretical concepts and research material that students will be expected to learn, as well as preparing students to deliver their speeches by establishing the expectations for the presentations and introducing the grading rubric by which they will be evaluated. For lectures I prepare PowerPoint presentations that incorporate multimedia elements (illustrations, videos, audio, etc.) to address as many different learning styles as possible. This often includes video recordings of speeches, both amateur and professional, to serve as examples and incite discussion and critique among the students. On presentation days students deliver their speeches according to the schedule determined at the beginning of the term; after each speech students receive oral feedback from both myself and their classmates.
By the end of the semester, students who complete one of my public speaking courses have learned theoretical and research-based approaches to public speaking and applied this knowledge in delivering their own speeches. They have confronted their anxiety about public speaking and gained the experience necessary for successful, confident public speaking. The opportunities to practice speaking in front of a group allows students to discover what does and doesn’t work for them personally, helping each student to develop their unique public speaking “voice,” or personal style of expression. Through collaboration and peer review with their classmates, students learn optimal techniques for presentation design, develop critical thinking and listening skills, and learn how to plan and implement an effective strategy for message creation and delivery.
As mentioned before, one of the unique aspects of teaching public speaking is the relation between the practice of teaching and the knowledge and skills being taught. The anxiety I felt on my first day of teaching is imminently relatable to students in a public speaking class, who will each experience similar anxiety when delivering their individual presentations. This realization revealed the importance of self-reflexivity early in my teaching career, and self-reflexivity has continued to influence the philosophy and method of my teaching. I instruct students by delivering instructions explicitly through lectures and by modeling effective presentation techniques in my teaching. In turn, I am constantly learning from the content of students’ speeches as well as their techniques in delivering them. This self-reflexivity is important because students will notice if I am not using the public speaking principles I expect them to use, or if I do something contrary to what I teach them, so by staying self-reflective I make sure to “practice what I preach” while also continually increasing and improving my presentation skills. I also encourage self-reflexivity in students through written self-evaluations at the end of the semester that require students to review their speeches and reflect on their performance in the class.
In addition to self-reflexivity, another core element in my approach to teaching public speaking is the emphasis on allowing students to discover and develop their unique “voice” in presenting. Stephan Ihde, my faculty mentor at UCF, significantly influenced this aspect of my teaching philosophy. In his own public speaking classes, Mr. Ihde emphasizes the importance of finding and using one’s unique voice to all his students, and in my mentoring relationship he told me that developing my teaching voice in the classroom would be an ongoing process of experimentation and self-discovery. The third core element of my teaching philosophy is creating and maintaining a positive classroom environment. None of my other teaching objectives can be achieved without an environment conducive to exploration and learning. I strive to cultivate a sense of community in my classroom through start-of-class activities such as riddles and games, peer feedback discussions where everyone is welcome to contribute, and small groups of students who provide each other with written feedback throughout the semester.
My teaching is guided by the key themes of self-reflexivity, fostering individual expression, and cultivating collaborative environments. I measure my success in achieving these goals through the experiences reported in students’ course assessments, evaluations by my fellow faculty members, and by demonstrated improvements in student scores throughout a semester. The ultimate goal I have for all my classes is to challenge my students to realize their capabilities and fulfill their potential by establishing clear expectations and holding them to high standards.