Does debate matter? Just ask Blaine High School teacher Ross Eichele

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Blaine High School teacher Ross Eichele reflects on the importance of forensic skills and his experience as a debate coach.

Ross Eichele rarely gets nervous when he has to speak in front of a crowd. For him, it’s a fun challenge, trying to “hook” an audience.

He’s the speech and debate coach at Blaine High School, where he also teaches English, and his enthusiasm seems to be catching: Eichele, who arrived at the high school eight years ago, has seen the two activities grow to include more than 50 students each.

During the debate season, it’s not uncommon for students to spend up to 20 hours a week researching and writing in preparation for a tournament, he said.

Eichele has been instrumental in starting up other local speech and debate teams, as well, and was honored in December with a “Distinguished Service Key” award from the National Speech and Debate Association. The high school speech season wraps up April 19-20 with the state tournament at Blaine High School. Eichele took the time for a Q&A about the value of speech and debate.


Q: How did your interest in speech and debate start?

A: I wanted to teach public speaking because I loved the class in high school. I wasn’t shy, but I was nervous about speaking in front of people. I’m glad I had to take the class. It was transformational for me.

Up until that point, I’d talk for a presentation, and the idea was just to get done with it. My teacher, Mrs. Lang, got you to think about the audience members, what they’re feeling, to craft a message to make it meaningful for them.

Also, I was part of North Dakota State University’s speech and debate team. I had an amazing experience. It was fun to overcome fears, meet different people on campus and compete against other students.


Q: Does coaching speech and debate affect your teaching in any way?

A: Coaching has made me a better teacher because it provides a different context of the learning process. As a coach, most of my focus is on making small improvements. We want to perform better at the next tournament than we did at the last one. We want to grow.

Sometimes people will “get it,” but many times we have to go over things multiple times before it clicks or makes sense. I find the learning process to be very incremental.

It helps me remember that people need time, opportunity and encouragement to learn. Sometimes that means trying out things in multiple ways.


Q: What has the activity done for you outside of the classroom?

A: It’s a lot of different little things. If you’re at a meeting where something is being talked about, it makes you think about how to interject or build a consensus. In job interviews, instead of just getting through the questions, you’re thinking about what answers you’re giving, what you’re doing to maintain interest.

There are little things every day that you don’t think of, that go better as a result of speech and debate. Every time you’re talking to someone, you’re using those skills.

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