I always thought my college years would be a time of mental and professional growth. But when an English professor said to me in front of the class, “I am going to ask you a question, but you probably don’t know the answer,” I began to doubt myself. I felt embarrassed and afraid to share my thoughts with anyone. This fear of speaking up stuck with me through college and most of my teaching career.
When things bothered me at the Kentucky school I taught at, I kept my feelings to myself. Dissent in the school and the community was highly discouraged. I often heard the advice, “You are the teacher. The students are to agree with you and never question what you say.” Even though something about that advice felt wrong, I followed it anyway, deferring to the authority of experienced teachers. Just as that professor had shut down my curiosity and desire to discuss current issues, I shut down my students in class discussions and debates.
Everything changed for me when I applied to the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellows program and was selected as a Fellow. As a Fellow, I have learned to teach students public speaking and to incorporate the study of speeches into my regular curriculum. I’ve helped students gain skills to substantiate their own opinions with evidence and logical argument. These skills serve them well now in the classroom and will be valuable as they pursue their own careers.
And just as students are asked to write and perform original persuasive speeches, the National Oratory Fellows programs helped me build my own writing and public speaking skills.
The Ford’s program gave me the opportunity to focus on areas where I could improve and provided me with the resources to become a better public speaker. By crafting my own speeches, I not only modeled the behavior for my students, but I also gained confidence that my voice and my opinion are valuable and important.
The National Oratory Fellows program also provided me with the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., and expand my horizons. I have had the chance to meet teachers from around the country, learn from their experiences and share strategies to better my own classroom teaching. Not only have they become a great professional resource, but I also feel as though I have become a part of the National Oratory Fellows family!
My confidence as a teacher and as a learner has soared. I now have the confidence to lead discussions and debates in my class and to honor my students’ voices. I don’t demand that my opinion be their opinion and I’m open to hearing their point of view. I think they respect me more now than when they were expected not to question me.
The Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellowship has given me the confidence to be an excellent teacher. I’m no longer afraid to try new strategies in my teaching practice or to share my ideas with my colleagues. I have learned that you can ask me a question, and perhaps I won’t know the answer, but I will know how to respond with confidence.
Joe Moneymaker is a fifth-grade teacher at South Livingston Elementary School in Smithland, Kentucky. He was the Ford’s Theatre Teacher-In-Residence in the summer of 2018.