Ballard changing lives one speech at a time

Liberty Hill High School speech teacher Tammy Ballard empowers students by teaching them how to communicate professionally, helping them develop self confidence and advocate for themselves. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Liberty Hill High School speech teacher Tammy Ballard empowers students by teaching them how to communicate professionally, helping them develop self confidence and advocate for themselves. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

The bell rings and the hustle and bustle in the hallways at Liberty Hill High School commence.

Though it is only the second hour of the school day, longtime teacher Tammy Ballard has already completed her shift on duty in the cafeteria that morning, completed a conference meeting and still had time to put up some posters on her classroom wall and start writing notes on the whiteboard.

Her students walk in and start talking amongst each other about their weekend while setting up their respective computers before the start of class.

What is unique about this professional communications class is that they welcome their teacher into their conversation. One student shared with a classmate and Ballard some not-so-good news involving two of his family’s goats.

The bell rings again and class officially begins. Ballard is all smiles and instead of starting a one-way street version of instruction where she speaks at the front of the classroom for the full class, she initiates a back-and-forth conversation, and lets her students take control of their assignment.

“I believe all children are capable of learning, if given the proper motivation and guidance from teachers,” Ballard explains. “As a teacher, I feel it is a necessity to relate to all students and push them to reach their potential, coaching them to have high expectations and expecting them to try their best.

“In my classroom, I encourage participation and discussion, allowing my content to be not only meaningful and applicable but interesting to my students as well,” she adds. “If students do not see the real world applications, then they will not gain as much from the information. Creating a classroom that is a safe learning environment for everyone allows my (teaching) philosophy to be experienced daily, therefore, students thrive and excel.”

The ease with which her students felt they can speak with Ballard not only about their coursework but everyday life is testament to the safe learning environment she has established. First on the to-do list is for students to look up current event stories in relation to their assignment. This serves as an example of Ballard’s mission to push students to see real world applications.

Described as an “extraordinary” teacher by parents of her former students who may have otherwise disliked school, Ballard also serves as UIL coordinator at Liberty Hill High School. She has taught for 31 years and has dedicated 15 of those to Liberty Hill.

A college advisor her sophomore year of college set her on the right path. Until the advisor suggested she consider teaching as a profession, Ballard had not thought of it. But it proved the perfect combination of her passions for theatre, speech and children.

Her first teaching job was at Hutchinson Middle School in Lubbock where she taught theatre to 7th-9th graders for five years. She next taught theatre to 7th-8th graders in Granbury for 10 years.

She left teaching to try her hand at medical billing, but in less than a year realized her true calling in life was education. She applied and was hired for a job at Liberty Hill, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

“Theatre was my passion, I loved it and I was good at it,” Ballard recalls. “I competed in UIL One Act Play. I guess (what I love about it) is experiencing telling someone else’s story. A whole world of stories opens up and you can pretend to be somebody else.”

But it’s her passion for speech that resulted in her teaching professional communications as she does today.

“I do believe children need to know how to give speeches to learn how to present themselves or give a presentation,” Ballard says. “I think that’s very important for our kids.”

As UIL coordinator, Ballard is responsible for registering all required information with the UIL and has served as district coordinator, district host and One Act Play contest host. She enters students in tournaments, makes transportation requests, check request for fees and dues, orders supplies for all 23 UIL events and whatever UIL coaches need.

“We host the District UIL Academic Meet, so I set up the rooms and logistics for that contest,” Ballard shared. “We also host the One Act Play Contest in our beautiful facility. I take care of the payment for judges, stage manager and contest manager. I also make sure there is a hospitality room at these events.”

Ballard says UIL tournament season begins in January and would not be possible without all the outstanding academic coaches at Liberty Hill that help prepare students to be competitive. Students and coaches commit a significant amount of extra time to preparing and participating in tournaments.

Her students in particular compete in categories such as Congressional Debate and Informative and Persuasive Speaking.

Some students have performed so well in UIL that they have been awarded the Texas Interscholastic League Foundation scholarship. James Cole Weber received $2,500 via the Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd T. Jones Scholarship earlier this year.

Beyond learning the art of mastering speech and presentation via assignments such as business cultural speech and career cluster/career choice, there is something greater Ballard wants students to walk away with.

She wants them to walk away with greater self-confidence and the ability to advocate for themselves in just about any situation that arises.

“They can advocate perhaps for a raise in the future,” Ballard shares. “Or just share their ideas about something. If perhaps, they’re in a work situation and are able to share an idea about something.”

She realizes some students may have a fear of speaking in public with some even getting physically ill from it. She modifies assignment expectations and gradually works these students up so that they are comfortable to speak in public by end of semester.

On average, Ballard teaches 125 students a semester.

“The kids are the best part of this job,” she explains. “They’re kind to each other. When push comes to shove, they’re really kind to each other and that’s great to see in young people.”