A private conversation with Liz Schwartz on public speaking

Coaches Corner 1/26/17
By: 
GARRETT HARR
Outlook staff writer
Liz Schwartz

The Laurel Outlook recently spoke to Laurel High School head speech, drama and debate coach Liz Schwartz about the exciting, dramatic and humorous elements of competitive forensics.
Liz Schwartz grew up in Billings and graduated from Billings Senior High School, where she competed in speech and debate during all four years of high school. She graduated from the University of Montana in Missoula and began her teaching career in Anaconda, Mont., where she taught Spanish and drama for two years before moving back to Billings where she began teaching at Laurel Middle School. She’s the Spanish and photography teacher at the school, as well as the yearbook adviser and has been coaching the Laurel High School speech, drama and debate team for eight years.
1. What or who got you into speech, drama and debate? “My mom was the head speech coach at Skyview High School in Billings for many years when I was growing up. I got to watch a lot of practices with her students and that made a huge impression on me. Both of my parents were strong supporters of the arts, so we always attended a lot of plays and went to the theater often.”
2. What is your philosophy on teaching and coaching young developing minds like your students? “First and foremost, I think that competitive forensics really offers something for everyone. So, my philosophy in coaching this incredible activity is one of inclusion and growth. No matter your background or your talents, chances are that you will find success on a speech and debate team, whether it’s competitive success or even just personal success, like becoming a better public speaker. I try to really facilitate that growth as a coach.”
3. For people who don’t know, briefly explain what speech, drama and debate actually is? “Speech, drama and debate, or competitive forensics, is a Montana High School Association sanctioned activity where high students from all over the state of Montana compete at invitational, division and state tournaments in seven speech events, six drama events and three debate events. Our season runs from October through January. The students involved choose to concentrate on one or two events in these areas. Many students opt for acting events that are either humorous or serious in nature; some students are drawn to the research and argumentative based events like debate. Speech events offer students a chance to persuade and inform their audience on a topic of their choice, or even to join events where they formulate spontaneous speeches based off of a prompt or current event.”
4. Why do you think it is considered a sport? The competitive nature of the debates, the practice, or what exactly? “Our practices are certainly rigorous: students work all season writing, rehearsing, revising and performing speeches and practicing selections from plays and literature. Tournaments are all-day events where competitors perform three to five times a day in front of an audience of their peers and a judge who ranks on the quality of their performances. Although there may not be a huge physical component to our activity, we definitely exercise our minds and run our mouths.”
5. What is your favorite part about coaching? “Without a doubt, it’s watching the students’ success over the course of the season. Whether it’s a first place win at a tournament for a speech that a student has been working to perfect all season, or a student’s first time performing or acting in front of an audience, their pride in their achievement is the best part!”
6. If you could tell your students one reason why they should be in speech, drama and debate, what would it be? “The skills you will learn in speech, drama and debate are lifelong skills. You will need to speak publicly in your life, at one time or another, guaranteed. Why not be good at it? Not only that, but it’s one of the number one extracurricular activity that colleges look for on scholarship and admission applications.”
7. What is your favorite topic this year in speech, drama and debate? “This year, I have seen some really interesting speeches about gender equality, economic and political relations with China and even one about the history of underwear. The kids always seem to know what topics will spark the most interest.”
8. What is your students’ favorite topic in speech, drama, and debate? “See answer number seven.”
9. How do you feel about the group you have this year? “I love this group; they are so talented, tenacious and dedicated. We will be graduating only three seniors this year, so that will leave us with a lot of returning kids and great potential for next year too.”
10. How can kids get involved? “Students can attend informational meetings at the beginning of the season. We usually hold meetings after school the last week in September, but we’re flexible. If a student is interested in joining even once we’ve begun the season, we’ll take them!”
11. What book did you read in high school that inspired you? “My friends and family know I am an avid reader, so with only one pick I’d have to say Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird.’”
12. What quote do you live by? “Your words will outlive your lifetime, use them wisely.”
13. What is your favorite part of your job? “I love seeing the growth students achieve throughout the season. I love seeing them have fun with something that will bring them skills they will use throughout the rest of their lives.”
14. What film or television show would you recommend for readers to watch to give the best interpretation of what speech, drama and debate is really like? “I’m not really sure I have an answer for this one. Maybe like a mix of ‘Glee’ and ‘The Great Debaters’ with Denzel Washington.”
15. What is the biggest difference you have seen in kids now, compared to kids when you were in high school? “It’s obviously the technology; it’s just part of their culture. Their phone is really just a part of them. Other than that, teenagers are teenagers.”
16. Was there a mentor or someone who helped you or you looked up to when you were young? “My mom was a great influence on me, obviously. I went into teaching and coaching like her. I still look to her for advice with my team or help with a speech.”
17. Have you been able to return the favor in your own students’ life? “I hope that I have encouraged and inspired my students. I certainly try to be a mentor for those that I coach.”
18. Why did you choose to coach in Laurel? “I actually spent a lot of time in Laurel when I was young because my paternal grandparents lived here. I love the close-knit community and was thrilled when a teaching job opened up at the middle school when I was looking. It was only icing on the cake when I found out there was an open coaching position too.”
19. How do you deal with the many different personalities on your team? “We really try to encourage acceptance of all team members but mostly it comes naturally to the kids. The team members are great to each other and even describe it like having a second family. Probably because we spend so much time together on weekends during tournament season.”
20. In one word can you describe what you hope your students learn from speech, drama, and debate? “What, only one word?! You know I’m a speech coach, right? How about, CONFIDENCE!”

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