A Master Toastmaster Mentor

This post is Jeff Stevens’ description of his work with the DECA and Toastmasters classes over 27 years. Jeff is a local architect.

In February of 1987, I was approached by a fellow member, Doug Ullrich, of my Toastmaster group who asked if I would be interested in helping him develop a Toastmaster program at the local high school. He had recently graduated from Arizona State University and was an alumnus of Camelback High School. His former marketing teacher, Ms. Charlene Lyons, was asking for help in developing a program for her junior level class. They had had some prior Toastmaster instructors who would not commit to more than one class at a time. Also some of the instructors were older and had trouble relating to the students. Ms. Lyons believed that a program could be established which would help her students learn basic speaking skills and business etiquette, i.e., resume writing, interviewing skills and social etiquette skills.

Doug believed I would be a good “fit” since, at the time, I was still fairly young and had recently graduated from Architecture school. I explained that I was not a teacher, that I had never taught a course and especially a high school speaking course. Finally Doug talked me into calling Ms. Lyons. She was very excited and told me she would handle all of the grading and any disciplinary items that might arise. This had been a great concern of mine since I was not really looking forward to disciplining 25 juniors in high school – let alone teach them public speaking skill. Ms. Lyons suggested I come over to the school after the last class and she would talk to me and introduce me to a few students.

Ms. Lyons was really a very friendly and outgoing teacher. She was what I would categorize as a strict high school teacher. I remember thinking as I left her after that first meeting that I would have probably have given her all kinds of “crap” if she had been my high school teacher. Please do not misunderstand me; Ms. Lyons was an excellent teacher who, over the next twelve years gained my complete respect and admiration. Her dedication to her students was a testament to all teachers. I just had a conflict on her teaching style of being a very strict disciplinarian – which in hindsight is probably what the students needed.

A quick note on the make-up of Camelback High School during this time period- late 1980’s to the mid 1990’s. Most of the student population was Caucasian and coming from middle class to upper middle class families. There were a few minorities mostly African-American and Hispanic students. The teaching staff was comprised mostly of Caucasian teachers with few minority instructors. The teachers were older and were very strict and not too compromising when it came to understanding the minority student’s problems. This of course was my view which may not have represented the entire teaching roster at Camelback. I was exposed to only several teachers around me, mostly from the Business Department and Math Department – all who shared the building I was to teach in. The administration was very foreign to me since they were housed at the far end of the campus, away from the business building. I remember it was not until a year later when I first met the principal at a student luncheon and how blasé he seemed about what I was doing in the marketing classroom.

Finally I decided to take on the 3rd period Marketing Class of Ms. Lyons. Toastmasters International (T.I.) had a program dedicated to teaching public speaking to students. They called it “Student Leadership.” I sent for the program and in a few weeks I received a package of manuals entitled “Student Leadership Manual.” I spent the weekend looking this over and decided that if I was to walk in and try to teach from this manual; the student’s would probably hang me. I contacted Doug Ullrich and he agreed that the T.I. method was a little out of date and did not have much relevant to students in the 20th Century. So I immediately, with Doug’s help, went into panic mode. I decided to just teach the class like a regular Toastmaster meeting is conducted. I would shorten the time period, from 90 minutes to 50 minutes, and cut back on a few of the unnecessary functionaries. The speeches would be shorter and the evaluations would be decreased in time. In fact by the time I was finished the class was more of a “hands on” teaching style and less of me up front teaching. I would always become the General Evaluator – giving out individual speaker evaluations at the end of the meeting and summing up what was great about the meeting and what we could improve upon. The students would really run the show with individual students acting as the Toastmaster, Jokemaster, Ah counter, timer and Topicmaster – changing positions every week. This would also involve more students and give them a chance to learn new skills. We added other positions over the years such as Wordmaster (introduction of a new word) thought for the day and Hullabalooer. The Hullabalooer is a position where a student gets up in front and gets everyone excited for the day’s meeting. This was a little risky since I was literally opening myself up to whatever a student wanted to do. But it has strictly remained a senior function and it is always done with good taste.

My first day was one of mixed excitement and fear. I was really scared and worried that I was not going to be able to pull this off. I walked into the class and was immediately accosted by a student who asked me if I was the “dude” who was going to teach them public speaking. That student was Kia Hollstein who is currently married and has two children and is a divisional manager for a huge Midwestern Auto Rental Dealer. I still get a message every now and again from him. The second student who came up to me was Freda Wahl (now Freda Sullivan and a successful entrepreneur who was one of the first students at ASU to graduate with a degree in Supply-Chain Management). Freda was the class President and proceeded to introduce me to her fellow classmates. The class, to my surprise, was a hit. I think one of the successful things about it was it was being taught by an outsider, someone who had little or no connections with the school. I was an outsider, someone from the real world, someone who was there on his own accord. I can remember the start of one year when one of the students asked me how much I was paid to do their Toastmaster class. When I told her I was a volunteer and did not get paid, she was amazed and I immediately earned her respect.

Over the next twenty-six years I continued to do the Marketing or DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), HERO (Home Economic Related Occupations), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and the COE (Cooperative Office Education) classes. At the beginning of 2014, the only class left at Camelback High School is the DECA or Marketing classes. For several years in the 1990’s, I team taught several courses with Mr. Doug Ullrich and Ms. Karen Payne, all at Camelback High School. After these individuals left, several other individuals came forward to help teach a Toastmaster related class. Those were Mr. Tim Hedger, Ms. Jojo Miller and Ms. Molly Sosa. The latter two were former students at Camelback High School’s Marketing class.

During the late 1990’s Camelback had become a true inner city high school with the majority of students receiving some form of school aid. In 1998, Ms. Lyons retired and Ms. Julie Bourdo took over the senior classes. Ms. Bourdo immediately gained my respect for her hands on approach to the students and their problems. Her understanding of the “inner city” student made her class more challenging but also more interesting. Ms. Bourdo also brought with her a strong desire to get all students involved in the State and National DECA Competitive events. We were able to use the Toastmaster class as a stepping stone to get the students involved in making formal presentations. Last year (2013) Ms. Bourdo took fourteen students to the national DECA Conference in Los Angeles, California. Camelback was the only school in the entire Phoenix Union High School District to send students to this competitive event.

Over the years I have been able to bond with many of my former students, giving out advice, attending graduations, weddings and the birth of children. I am currently advising and mentoring about 62 young adults – all out of high school with the majority in college and universities. Those two students from my first class still contact me and I have regular lunches with Freda on a monthly basis.

One of the nicest compliments came to me a few months ago when I was having lunch with one of my former students from the class of 2000. She was having some difficulty at work so we met to go over what she should do. After about an hour and having successfully come to a decision about her current work situation, she leaned across the table and told me she wanted to tell me something. She calmly told me that she considered me one of her childhood friends. She had known me longer then some of her other friends and she could not remember a time when I was not there to advise her. Her father had abandoned her early on and her mother was trying to raise her and three other siblings. I have had the pleasure of also having many former Marketing students work in my architectural firm. Currently I have four former students working for me in various capacities.

I believe that over the years the Toastmaster program at Camelback High School Marketing Classes has opened many doors for our students. Many of my former students are always reminding me of how important this was in their education. Several of the alumni who I keep in contact with are very thankful that we did Toastmasters during their class. Along with the classes at Camelback I am involved with several other activities with my former students. These are as follows:
1). the Splendiferous Book Club. This book club meets once a month to discuss a book or books and is composed of fourteen former students and myself.

2). the Camelback Conscious Art Club. This art club meets once a month to discuss a particular art theme (Pop art, gothic, etc.) and is composed of four (by choice) former students and myself.

3). the Annual Camelback High School DECA Alumni Day. This is where we gather all the alumni available in early August and have them speak frankly about college, career and life to the new junior and senior classes.

4). every year the current Camelback High School Marketing Class takes a four day spring break trip to either New York City or Chicago. This is an exclusive trip with an educational flavor including stops at most major sites and visits to wholesale and manufacturing facilities. I have accompanied the students on most trips since the year 2000.

5). I have consistently accompanied the current Marketing students to the Regional and State competitions. I have been to the DECA National Competitions in Orlando and Salt Lake City as a chaperone and a driver.

An ongoing conversation

My Turn

The goal of this website is to tell the CBHS story and keep updating it with its successes and stumbles. A case study of sorts.

The hope is that those who find this website and look at what has happened at this once troubled school will find hope and suggestions for how to improve the outcomes at their community’s schools.

Please feel free to post your suggestions, critiques, stories, etc. so that this website can become a fertile place to nurture future successful outcomes. Let us know how to reach you in the comments below, and we will contact you about creating a guest post for this blog.

And we expect to provide here more in depth explanations from those involved in the Camelback experience of their particular involvement and contributions, such as the input below provided by Carol Cox who oversaw the student surveys and Julia Bourdo, one of the teachers involved in many of the SVPAZ programs.