Teaching public speaking allows me to meet a wide array of students all with immensely diverse backgrounds. My students come from a wide range of majors and places. One of my favorite things about teaching public speaking is the fact that I can allow my students so much choice and range in what topics they discuss in the class. They never fail to amaze me with the multitude of topics that they choose to cover, and I am even more amazed with the varying knowledge and experiences they back themselves up with.
I can’t imagine how bored I would be if I had to sit in a class day after day and discuss the same types of topics over and over again. I love going into the classroom on any given day and knowing that I will learn about any range of topics from utilitarianism to organ donation and from computer vision to Gestalt Psychology.
This freedom does come with responsibility on my part however. Although students generally choose to talk about things like the growing use of drones or the financial collapse of 2008, at least a few times a semester I will encounter a more controversial topic, like abortion, capital punishment, religion, or gun control. I try to give my students as much space as I can to be themselves and talk about topics that interest them, but I have to keep the class as a whole in mind. There is a fine line between giving my students freedom in the course and giving them a platform to push an agenda, especially when it’s a controversial one that has the potential to offend other students, cause arguments, or harm the welcoming environment I strive to foster. I have felt it necessary to suggest that a student avoid a topic they chose to give a speech on. Although some teachers would say this stifles creativity and diversity, I believe it is important to teach my students that in a group as diverse as ours some topics either aren’t appropriate to talk about, or must be discussed extremely carefully, and that they do not have the time or expertise to give such sensitive topics the time that they deserve in order to be covered fully. I would never want a student to take on a difficult topic and end up giving a speech that would harm or suppress relationships with other students or hurt their credibility in the eyes of their classmates. Diversity of ideas and opinions is an essential part of my classroom; however, so is mutual respect.