A Teacher’s Life: Tasha Kneis

HARLINGEN — Such a bittersweet moment.

Tasha Kneis, who has served as Harlingen High School’s speech, drama and debate teacher for three years, was gathering boxes of personal items. Rows of red-upholstered chairs ascended toward the back wall, reflective of the dynamic energy that had been created here.

Kneis, 30, says she’s enjoyed her time here. However, she’s accepted an offer from the Tuloso-Midway Independent School District to create a new speech, drama and debate team.

“I am a little nervous,” she said. “I love the challenge.”

While the trepidation is understandable, she’s already run the course once. Kneis actually began teaching in the Harlingen school district six years ago, starting out as an assistant to Lee Ann Ince at Harlingen High School South. After three years, the district asked her to begin a speech, drama and debate program at HHS where she’d graduated in 2004.

“They really wanted to start a program for the kids at Harlingen High School,” she said. “At first it was overwhelming. It was a lot to take on by myself.”

She began the year with two students in a speech, drama and debate class. She didn’t waste any time creating a team for competitions, and students soon began arriving in droves.

“They were hungry for a program like this,” Kneis said.

Soon, she was taking students to competitions where they were earning trophies. UIL competitions, the Texas Forensics League and the Harvard Individual Meet set the stage for them to present their talents. They excelled in such events as Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Congressional Debate and Cross Examination.

She looked at the glistening trophies some groups had won while competing in the Texas Forensics League.

“Some kids just like the trophy,” she said. “I started this team because I wanted to produce leaders.”

Curiously, students who cared only about winning a trophy were not very successful, she said. Those who were truly interested in learning to present themselves before a large group of people performed very well.

The skills learned in speech, drama and debate have a direct application to the professional world.

“Leaders learn to use their voice,” she said.

When students first entered her class, the first order of business was to determine their strengths and weaknesses, then the students would begin building on that.

Kneis raved on so many of her students who entered her class shy and apprehensive about speaking up. Soon, they were taking on the world at event after event.

The skills of speech, drama and debate can take people far. She believes her activities in that program at Texas State University gave her the courage to graduate.

Perhaps it is those skills that have empowered her to pursue her master’s degree and also start yet another program in another school district.