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Teacher Spotlight: Gay Brasher of Leland High School

teachWe bring you another installment of our Teacher Spotlight series, where we chat with teachers from around the country, picking their brain about their theater program and the art of teaching theater. This month we spoke with Gay Brasher of Leland High School about the school’s award-winning speech and debate team, what makes a good competition piece, and celebrating her 50th year as a teacher.

What drew you to speech and debate?

I always enjoyed performing in front of an audience, but there weren’t many opportunities available to me in high school to participate in speech, debate, and drama. I loved the few experiences I had in these areas and developed a passion for them early on! I knew I wanted to work with students to provide opportunities for them that I didn’t have—and to satisfy my own love of performance. This passion continues today as I begin my 50th year of teaching and coaching.

How do you feel speech and debate helps students grow?

The ability to stand before an audience and effectively communicate is a life skill. I see students grow more confident with every opportunity they have to perform. It is thrilling to be a part of this!

30234331446_150691ca56_mWhat is the thing you look for in a speech and debate piece?

There are several things that I consider in choosing pieces for students. The appropriateness of a selection that my students are going to perform is the most important consideration. In these often polarized and divided times, I want to be comfortable suggesting material to the students. In addition, the play, whether humorous or dramatic, must be sensitive to the many different cultures represented by our students and their families, from Taiwan to Tehran.

What type of plays make for a great competition speech?

The best plays have strong, clear story lines that audiences can easily follow, especially when they are presented at competition length: 10 minutes. In addition, there must be fascinating, fully developed characters involved in a plot with distinct conflict and resolution.

What have been some of your favorite scripts?

Some of these are older, but it’s always enjoyable coaching them:


What has been your proudest moment as a teacher?

Leland Speech and Debate is one of the largest teams in the United States. Providing opportunities for hundreds of students (315 to be exact) requires a great deal of planning, long hours, and help! The job may be overwhelming at times, but the joy of taking more than 200 prepared student speakers to a tournament is beyond explanation.

If you could only impart one lesson to your students, what would it be?

My students look forward to visits from former classmates who talk to our classes about college experiences. These graduates share how their speech and debate experiences in high school have prepared them for their many oral presentations in college. I want the students to understand how the power of being a confident public speaker will serve them well throughout their years, long after college graduation.

What is the biggest misstep you see speech and debate students commonly make?

When my students work with their peers, they often forget that they will be attending tournaments to compete for adult judges. They often add extraneous actions that appeal to their peers but often don’t contribute to the storyline and become confusing and distracting. They lose sight of what appeals to their judges.

What is the greatest lesson you have taken from your students?

A lot has changed in the classroom for the students and therefore for me as a teacher and coach. In 1966, we entered a play festival with The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden by Thornton Wilder. I doubt that would be our choice in 2016. I must listen closely, observe, and learn how I can adjust my role to provide meaningful and relevant learning experiences for my students. I have to be open to change and continue learning to be better.



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