These are just some of the adjectives students used to describe adjunct speech professor Sam Blank on the popular Web site “Rate My Professors.”
Blank, an adjunct speech professor who has taught at BMCC since 1981, recently generated some national publicity when he was voted the “Top” Community College professor on RateMyProfessors.com.
A 5-star “Overall Quality” rating, along with a plethora of feedback from former students who posted comments on the site anonymously, contributed to Blank’s first-place status.
"Not so bad..."
When a reporter from USA Today recently requested an interview for the newspaper’s “Back to School” issue, Blank was “shocked.” He had no idea he was voted “Top Junior College Professor” for 2009-2010.
Although humbled and flattered by his first-place stance, Blank nonetheless maintained his trademark sense of humor when discussing his Web site win.
“First, I called my wife over to the computer and said, ‘Look, see? I’m not that bad!” he says. “I think it’s nice to be acknowledged for the work you do. [The site rating] is not the most important thing to me; it’s most important to me to see my students succeed. But I find it encouraging that students took the time to write comments.”
Some additional comments posted online about Blank include: “He is a true role model," “He relates the material to the real world,” “[He] created an atmosphere of trust and respect in which we were able to lose our fear of public speaking,” and “His teaching style gave me the courage to strive and achieve.”
“I am not surprised, at all, that Professor Blank has been voted 'Top Professor',” says Judy Louie, a nursing major who recently took Blank’s Speech 100 course. “His class was fun. I’m surprised to describe a speech class as ‘fun’.”
Louie says the thought of presenting any speech filled her with anxiety. “But that's where Professor Blank made a difference,” she says. “His classes were not just about preparing and delivering a good, potent speech—he shared stories about himself and his experiences, and in sharing life lessons with us, he taught us how we should approach all situations and all people—with a sense of humor, with fairness, respect and, above all, a willingness to listen."
Blank says his “great sense of humor” puts students at ease. “For example, they’ll ask me why I always wear a black shirt—I’ll say ‘because it makes me look slimmer, and the collar hides the lipstick stains from my wife,” he says, smiling. “I enjoy bringing humor into the classroom because the students need it at the end of the day.”
Because Blank teaches evening classes, a majority of his students work full-time. “I understand what it’s like to work a long, full day and then come into my classroom, so I make the environment enjoyable.”
Blank also happens to live up to his name—well, sort of. Former student Ana Payamps enjoyed Speech 100 so much she ‘drew a blank’ when asked about his class. “There are no words to describe how wonderful Professor Blank is,” says the Bilingual Childhood Education major. “He can make the shyest person become a public speaker because he gives you the confidence you need to shine when presenting a speech."
High school experience
Blank started his career as a New York City high school educator and created conflict resolution programs (He taught people to handle all sorts of conflicts, on a personal and professional level) for the City of New York. “I believe I run my classroom at BMCC well because I have years of experience working with high school students,” he says.
Over the years, Blank has worked as a radio disc jockey, a contributing writer for the “Guidance Channel” Web site, and was a contributing author to Stand and Deliver: High-Impact Presentations. (The royalties from this book, currently in its fourth printing, were waived by the authors to fund a scholarship for BMCC students.)
When he’s not inspiring BMCC students, Blank leads a course called “Negotiating to Win” at the American Management Association and he’s currently working on a book about conflict resolution and crisis management in the workplace.
“BMCC students are unique because working here is like working at the United Nations. I’ve been here almost 30 years and I’ve had students from every realm of globe,” he says. “I enjoy the fact that BMCC students are individuals who bring a great deal of diversity, opinions, and anecdotes into the classroom—it makes my job very easy.”
Blank says the demand for his class has increased since his ‘Top Professor’ rating was released. More students than ever are requesting to take his sessions.
“Unfortunately, due to space limitations, we can’t let everyone into the class, so that’s the downfall of the site rating,” he says.
Overcoming the fear
Blank says because Speech 100 is a required course for graduation, students are oftentimes “trepidatious, fearful and don’t want to be there.” So, his philosophy in teaching is to make it less worrisome while “trying to impart on students that speech is an essential art.”
According to Blank, his Speech 100 isn’t really a speech class per se; it’s a course in communications. “When students walk out of that room, hopefully they will learn some skills that will help them in their future career, interpersonal relationships and all aspects of life.”
Class topics include speech preparation, the art of persuasion, critical listening and more, and if any student was is struggling with their confidence, Blank encourages them to meet with him during office hours for additional guidance.
“Professor Blank created a safe, open, and comfortable environment for us all. Rather than focusing on our weak points, he highlighted each of our strengths,” recalls Louie. “He was always willing to help and provide support, even if it wasn't speech-related.”
Because possessing confidence is not everyone’s specialty, says Blank, many students ask if they can present their speech just to him; sans an audience. “In the classroom, I make students feel as if they are giving the speech one-on-one. Some students will panic, but most of them do come through, whether it requires rehearsal with me or with someone else.”
A strong believer in teamwork, Blank pairs students up in the classroom as a means of helping them overcome their public speaking insecurities. “When they work together, they work through their problems and are able to give a great presentation. And once they have some level of success, it builds,” he explains. “Perhaps for the first speech, they’re shaking a little bit; the second a bit less, and by the third, it’s gone. I try to channel that fear into energy to move each student forward. That’s my job.”
Former student Ana Payamps enjoyed bonding with her speech classmates. “What made Professor Blank’s class so memorable is that everyone was very friendly, especially when we were teamed up,” she recalls. “His class felt like a family, which made for a nice atmosphere."
Although he encourages the use of technological visual aids in the classroom—many of his students like using PowerPoint for their presentations, for example—Blank stresses the importance of face-to-face verbal communication. “We talk about job interviews, how to ask for promotions…that’s all inherent in speech communication. In my class, you’ll learn how to put your ideas into thoughts and words, and come across as being educated and logical.”
Former student Judy Louie says if colleges had more instructors like Professor Blank, then learning would “cease to be a chore.” “We, as students, would be more inclined to explore our interests; less focused on making a grade and more concerned about making a difference in our lives, as Professor Blank has,” she says. “He's more than just a wonderful professor; he is a wonderful person.”
Sam Blank's Professional Web site is: www.samblankassociates.com