Read a Q&A with Tony Smith who was nominated for the Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL) Faculty Spotlight because of his student-centered instruction, engagement of students and dedication to their educational needs. Serving as a faculty member in Communications at the Seminole Campus, he teaches Introduction to Speech Communication and Business and Professional Speaking.
Earlier this year, he made the list of The Princeton Review’s Best 300 Professors.
Smith, an Ohio native, received his Bachelor of Arts in mass communications from Wright State University and a Master of Arts in speech communication from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
CETL caught up with Smith to learn about teaching speech communication:
CETL: How did you get started in Communications?
Smith: I had wanted to be a dee-jay since childhood, so I enrolled in college and took several courses in mass communications. I later had a change of heart and decided to pursue a career in the speech communication field by enrolling in graduate courses at Miami University of Ohio. This gave me a chance to teach public speaking at the undergraduate level as a graduate assistant, and I realized after my first week of teaching that I had found my calling in life. I absolutely love teaching and deeply believe in what I teach, so I feel very fortunate that my career at SPC has also been one of my greatest blessings in life.
CETL: What prepared you for your Faculty role?
Smith: In addition to teaching at Miami University, where I earned my M.A., I taught for several years at RETS Technical Center in Centerville, Ohio. I also taught interpersonal communication for one year at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. I think working for seven years (1994-2001) as a professional dee-jay for wedding receptions, parties, dances, etc., also helped prepare me for speaking in front of people and interacting with various groups of people on a professional basis.
CETL: What new developments are happening in your field?
Smith: I’m excited about the potential of multimedia such as YouTube, Facebook, ANGEL, etc., to facilitate effective student learning in the speech communication field. Much of today’s new technology is a form or channel of communication, so I feel excited to use new methods of communication to teach course objectives in ways that students can often relate to and understand. Online communication in general has immense potential to inspire and educate others, so I think it’s important for students and educators to reap the benefits of this resource.
CETL: What are your biggest challenges in preparing students for the field of communications?
Smith: The biggest challenge, by far, is helping students cope with public speaking anxiety. Few students seem to actually WANT to take a course that involves giving speeches, and many feel they won’t use public speaking outside the classroom. With that in mind, I try to convince students that public speaking doesn’t have to be hell, that they can get through it (and even enjoy it!), and that the material they learn in my class can truly help them for the rest of their life–even if they’re not pursuing careers directly within the communications field.
CETL: What do your students seem to appreciate or enjoy about your class?
Smith: Students really seem to enjoy my sense of humor in the classroom. It’s never taken much in life to get me laughing, and that helps to relax the atmosphere in a course that can otherwise be very intimidating for students. Using humor in the class also helps students see me more as a human being as opposed to seeing me as just their professor (and I actually think students sometimes view professors and human beings as two different entities). Students also seem to appreciate my passion for what I teach and the respectful manner in which I treat them. I’ve been told by students that I do a nice job of helping them get through and succeed in a difficult subject, and it feels good to know that. I’m also extremely mindful of posting grades and getting students’ work returned to them in a timely manner, which they really seem to appreciate.
CETL: What teaching strategy do you find effective?
Smith: I ask a lot of questions and I love playing devil’s advocate, asking students to defend their answers or the reasoning behind them. I enjoy classroom discussions relative to the course material, and I always try to emphasize the importance and value of what I’m teaching to students and how it can potentially impact their personal lives, careers, and relationships with others. In essence, I believe students must be motivated in some way to learn. If they don’t care whether they learn, they probably won’t. In that sense, I try to make it clear to students as to why they should care, and what’s in it for them if they learn to apply the course material. My learning approach is very student centered because students are essentially the reason I’m teaching (besides the happiness and satisfaction I take from teaching on my own behalf). Overall, I try to balance compassion and understanding as an educator with high standards and personal accountability for students in my classes.
CETL: What are you most excited about regarding your faculty role?
Smith: I still have a somewhat romantic view of teaching in that I believe educators have the power to motivate students in ways that can enhance the quality of their life and improve society overall. This obviously doesn’t happen with all students, but I want it to happen in the lives of as many students as possible. Simply stated, a college education should improve the quality of one’s life. I try to keep this at the forefront of my teaching, and I feel a great deal of excitement, joy, and responsibility in my career as a professor.
CETL: What can students do to prepare for a career in your field?
Smith: I hope they DON’T prepare for a career in my field, because that means they could come back one day and take MY career. (Just kidding.) To prepare for a career in teaching in the speech communication field, students should take a variety of communications courses to earn the respective degree. They should also practice public speaking at their local schools, churches, community events, and through groups such as Toastmasters International, which thoroughly immerses members in the art of designing and delivering speeches while providing excellent feedback. Finally, as is the case with most careers, they should take the time and effort to create a high quality resume, learn effective job interview techniques, and practice their job interview several times.