After working in advertising and marketing at the Omaha World-Herald for nearly 20 years, Amy Pinney decided she needed a career change. Reflecting on the few teachers who influenced her throughout her school years, she realized that her children needed more of these role models, so she returned to school.
With the birth of her first daughter, Kailey, Pinney became a stay-at-home mom. As her daughters, Kailey and Samantha, grew old enough to attend school, Pinney wanted to make a difference for students and push them to be their best selves.
“I thought back to my studies and when I really thought about it, I felt like I had two teachers who pushed me to be better than I thought,” she said. “I thought it was kind of sad – that only two out of 40 or more teachers had that kind of impact.”
While Pinney was not a straight student, these two teachers were incredibly tough on her, which made her realize that they wanted the best for her. Inspired by these teachers, Pinney pursued her master’s degree in teaching.
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While living in Yuma, Colorado, Pinney enrolled in an online master’s degree program through Western Governors University based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“When I started this program, my homework was almost all in the schools, so I had to get permission since I was already a substitute in Yuma public schools to do a lot of my activities and lessons,” a- she declared. “I focused mainly on K-8 during this master’s program. It’s probably one of the best teacher training programs I’ve been to because of the valuable experiences you get.
She taught as a substitute teacher at Yuma while working part-time in public relations for the Yuma Conservation District. Three years later, she was hired to teach second grade in Otis, Colorado.
The Pinneys moved to Greeley, Nebraska, located north of Grand Island. Pinney taught there for four years, serving as an assistant speech coach the first year, then as a speech coach for three years.
The Pinneys moved again in 2017 to western Nebraska where she got a teaching job as a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Bluffs Middle School.
“I interviewed in middle school and taught language arts my first two years,” she said. “Well, the day of my interview, I was walking out and the current manager said, ‘Well, you know, there’s a speech coach job. “”
Pinney informed him that she was not interested in this opportunity as she wanted to focus on helping her children transition to the area. The administration continued to talk about the speech coach position at Pinney, and she decided to discuss the opportunity with her husband.
“He was like ‘But you like doing it and you’re very good at it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but I’m going to be away a lot. You know how it is during speech season.
With the support of her husband, Pinney accepted the position of speech coach at Scottsbluff High School. Now in her third year at SHS, she has watched her students develop their speaking skills and helped them achieve their goals for the seasons.
Last year, the Bearcats speech team finished second in the district in Class A.
“…It was the first time in 10 years that this had happened,” Pinney said. “And we did it again this year, which was amazing.”
This year’s speech team included 11 freshman speech students alongside nine veterans.
While Pinney hopes to build on the program’s success, she said her goal for the next speaking season is to work in depth.
“We had a lot of depth in some events, but we didn’t have as much depth in other events,” Pinney said. “Our goal is to get between 25 and 30 students to come and speak this coming year and each student will participate in two events to focus on.”
To bolster the speaking image, Pinney invited some of his students to perform for his classes, particularly before districts and state. She also uses her high school background in speech competition for two years and one-act plays for three years to inspire students to join.
“I’m glad I did,” she said. “Now I pretty much tell kids it’s the best activity you can do. It’s going to give you the life skills you need. You have to know how to speak well in front of people, whether you’re in a one-on-one situation or in a job interview or dealing with the public in your career.
Students involved in speaking sharpen their written and verbal communication skills to convey their messages concisely. They identify the purpose of the play, whether it is to get the audience to act on something, to change the audience’s mind, or to educate them on a subject so that they achieve the desired outcome. They also develop strong listening skills to assimilate information before offering a response.
Although the speech program has seen a lot of success recently, Pinney said there have been challenges. One of them is that the speech standards listed in the Nebraska State Standards are grouped under English. SHS has not offered a speech therapy course for the past few years, instead partnering with Western Nebraska Community College to offer a course for juniors and seniors. Classless, it posed a challenge of exposure and access for students.
However, Pinney used several avenues to grow the speaking team by reaching out to BMS teachers and high school counselors.
“I feel like I’m doing my best as long as I keep learning,” she said. “I love being able to connect with the students.”
As Pinney navigates long hours, stress and worry to ensure her speech students are well prepared, these times are worth watching her students learn to speak in a smart, confident way that inspires people to listen.