After Amy Pinney worked in advertising and marketing at the Omaha World-Herald for nearly 20 years, she decided she needed a career change. As she reflected on the few teachers who impacted her throughout her years in school, she realized her children needed more of those role models, so she went back to school.
With the birth of her first daughter, Kailey, Pinney became a stay-at-home mother. As her daughters, Kailey and Samantha, became old enough to attend school, Pinney wanted to make a difference for students and push them to become their best selves.
“I was thinking back about my education and when I really thought about it, I felt like I had two teachers who pushed me to be better than I thought I could be,” she said. “I thought that was kind of a sad state – that only two out of probably 40 or more teachers had that kind of an impact.”
While Pinney was not a straight A student, those two teachers were incredibly hard on her, which she came to realize they wanted the best for her. Finding inspiration from those 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 program through Western Governors University based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.
“When I started that program, my assignments were almost all in the schools, so I had to get permission since I was already subbing in Yuma Public Schools to do a lot of my activities and lessons,” she said. “I focused mainly on K-8 during that master’s program. It’s probably one of the best teacher education programs I’ve been aware of because of the valuable experiences you get.”
She substitute taught in Yuma while also working part-time doing public relations for the Yuma Conservation District. Three years later, she was contracted to teach second grade in Otis, Colorado.
The Pinneys relocated to Greeley, Nebraska, located north of Grand Island. Pinney taught there for four years, serving as the assistant speech coach the first year and then as the speech coach for three years.
The Pinneys moved again in 2017 to western Nebraska where she secured a teaching position as the seventh grade language arts teacher at Bluffs Middle School.
“I interviewed at the middle school and taught language arts my first two years,” she said. “Well, the day of my interview I was walking out and the actual principal said, ‘Well, you know, there’s a speech coach job.’”
Pinney informed him she was not interested in that opportunity as she wanted to focus on helping her children with the transition to the area. The administration kept bringing up the speech coach position to 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 told him, ‘Yeah, but I’m going to be gone a lot. You know how it is during speech season.’”
With the support of her husband, Pinney accepted the speech coach position at Scottsbluff High School. Now in her third year at SHS, she has seen her students develop their speaking skills and she has helped them achieve goals for the seasons.
Last year, the Bearcats speech team finished district runner-up in Class A.
“…That was the first time in 10 years that had happened,” Pinney said. “And we did that again this year, which was amazing.”
This year’s speech team had 11 first-year speech students competing alongside nine veterans.
As Pinney hopes to build upon the program’s success, she said their goal for the upcoming speech season is to work on depth.
“We had a lot of depth in certain events, but we didn’t have as much depth in other events,” Pinney said. “Our goal is to get between 25 to 30 students to come out for speech this upcoming year and each student will take on two events to focus on.”
To bolster the image of speech, Pinney invited some of her students to perform for her classes, especially prior to districts and state. She also uses her high school experience competing in speech for two years and one-act plays for three years to inspire students to join.
“I’m glad I did it,” she said. “Now I pretty much tell the kids this is the best activity you could ever do. This is going to give you those life skills you need. You need 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 speech sharpen their written and verbal communication skills to deliver their messages in a concise manner. They identify the goal of the piece, whether that be to make the audience act on something, to change the audience’s mind or to inform them on a topic so they achieve their desired outcome. They also develop strong listening skills to take in the information before they offer a response.
While the speech program has seen much success recently, Pinney said there have been challenges. One of those is the speech standards listed under the Nebraska state standards are umbrellaed under English. SHS has not offered a speech class for the past several years, instead partnering with Western Nebraska Community College to offer a course for juniors and seniors. Without a class, that posed a challenge of exposure and access for students.
However, Pinney used multiple avenues to grow the speech team by reaching out to teachers at BMS and the high school counselors.
“I feel like I’m doing the best I can as long as I keep learning,” she said. “I just love being able to make the connection with the students.”
While Pinney manages long hours, stress and worry to ensure her speech students are well prepared, those times are worth it seeing her students learn to speak in an intelligent, confident manner that makes people want to listen.