Making The Grade
December 21, 2005
Among the maps and globes and other knickknacks that adorn Emily Campbell’s classroom at Summit High, there lies a simple saying from Socrates: “To find yourself, think for yourself.”It’s one of those heady, philosophical phrases that can lead you everywhere and nowhere all at once, but the meaning seems pretty clear in Campbell’s backyard. This is the home of Summit High School’s debate club, a team that grew from five members when Campbell became the coach in 2000 to 45 members in its present state. Under Campbell’s leadership, the team has been state champions for the past two years running, and last year sent four students to nationals. Here in room 1326, where students learn to accelerate their speaking and organize their arguments, the kind of intellectual independence that Socrates speaks of is a must.
“Speech and debate are not just a stylistic skill,” Campbell said a few hours before her room filled with her debaters. “I so whole heartily believe that kids, by the time they graduate, need to be able to get up in front of a group and say something meaningful. That translates into all courses and all manners of life.” Campbell, who also teaches history and comparative world systems to sophomores and seniors, knows first hand the profound impact that debate can have. When she was a student in high school, she went to nationals two years in a row and placed fifth in the finals both times. After graduation, she found that a felicity with the skills of debate became a powerful tool for succeeding in college and thinking in a multi-cultural, multi-faceted way. “There are tough moments, but I see them happy and jovial, and I know that’s the environment that speech and debate breeds,” Campbell said. “I valued my high-school experience and wanted to bring that to the kids.” Doing so isn’t such an easy affair. To be the coach of the speech and debate club (along with Josh Blanchard) means a year-round commitment, one that starts in August with officer meetings, continues through January with preparation for state championships, and finally comes to an end in June with nationals. Through it all, Campbell is teaching her students the “tricks” she learned back in high school, like “flowing” (a style of colored note taking during debates) or the elusive art of capturing an audience’s attention. “I always tell my students that an audience will decide whether or not to listen in the first 10 seconds,” Campbell said, who is also a mother of one and a second-year graduate student at Regis University in Denver. “So they need an attention getter, to tell a joke or a personal story, or to use a quote.”
Which is one more reason sage old Socrates is perched in the corner of Campbell’s room.Challenges: “Leaving the kids at school and not bringing them home with you, because you care. You can literally stay in bed at night trying to figure out how to help them. It’s not like any job where you can leave it on your desk. These are human beings.” Gratifications: “I love it when a kid comes to me and says something like, ‘Mrs. Campbell, you know how we were studying Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? I was able to use that the other day.” That’s really gratifying.
Goals: “Simple. I want to become a better teacher, a better coach, be a good mother and a good wife. That’s it for now. If I can do those four things well, then good for me!” What’s something your friends or colleagues would be surprised to know about you?”I know how to say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ in Malagasy. Is that interesting?”