“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward
After being a vital part of Vol State Community College for half a century, Dr. Mike McDonald has announced his retirement.
The beloved professor not only leaves behind a legacy at the school, but a positive impact that he made on thousands of young lives through the years.
“Mike has had an outstanding career with VCCC and he’s been recognized locally and state wide for his contribution to speech education,” Jerry Faulkner, president of Vol State said.
“He is one of those teachers who is really dedicated to the profession and invests himself in his students.”
McDonald, a former state representative for the 44th district for 18 years, said that through the years, much has changed in the teaching profession.
“The biggest change I have seen in education is technology,” he said. “When I began, I used a piece of chalk and a chalkboard. That changed to a dry eraser board. Now there are computers in every classroom. I loved teaching college students.”
McDonald earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech from Lipscomb University in 1970, a Master of Arts Degree in Speech Communication in 1971 and a PhD in Communication in 1976 from the University of Illinois.
He began his teaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois in 1970, teaching speech communication. There he also served as assistant debate coach.
He later accepted a position at Austin Peay State University as an assistant professor of speech, and also served as the coach of the debate team. He taught there from 1972 until the spring of 1977.
In 1978, McDonald joined the faculty at Vol State as a professor in the communications department. He served as department chair from 1980 until 1993. He also served as director of the debate and forensic teams.
He initiated the Hal R. Ramer Oratorical Contest, and the campus radio station - WVCP-FM, and was faculty advisor to The Settler - the college newspaper. He also coordinated the Vol State United Way Campaign.
While there, McDonald taught dual enrollment classes at Westmoreland High School, White House High School, Hendersonville High School, and White House Heritage High School where students received high school credits and college credits at the same time.
Someone who made lasting impressions
Fellow colleague Leonard Assante, assistant professor of communication at the college, spoke highly of his co-worker and mentor.
"Mike served Tennessee students with distinction,” Assante said. “A recipient of the Tennessee Communication Association’s Communication Educator of the Year award, he taught communication and public speaking to thousands of students and maintained the highest academic standards.
Mike also served as the first department chair for communication and so, helped mentor many young faculty members, including me."
McDonald received many awards during his tenure as an educator, including the Outstanding Faculty Award from VSCC for the school year 1990-1991.
He also received an award from The State of Tennessee in appreciation and recognition for 30 years of loyal and outstanding service in 2002 when he retired. However, he continued as an adjunct professor of speech and communication through the spring of 2020. The Tennessee Communication Association gave him the Communicator of the Year Award in 2019.
Despite his many awards, it is the positive impact his students say his classes had on them that he is most proud of - from those who have been in the workplace for decades, to those just getting started.
“I had Mike for a public speaking class my freshman year at college,” Frank Freels, Jr. said. “I think that what you learned about him pretty quickly was that he took the idea of communication very seriously. He wanted to make sure you knew that public speaking is not just standing in front of an audience and delivering an address.
“Public speaking is all sizes of groups including just person to person. He wanted us to understand better about how we could communicate on our own, not just public speaking. I learned a lot from that. What’s interesting is I still use those skills today and that’s been 35 years ago. I still use what he taught me.”
Student John Blackaby said he also gained important life skills for his future.
“Professor McDonald was my speech teacher in the spring of 2020,” said Blackaby. “During the time that we had together, he made the classroom a fun and unique place to learn. He took a group of young adults that had no idea how to give a speech and prepared us mentally and physically for our future.
“Thank you, Professor McDonald, for the many years you have put into students like me. You have blessed every person who has had the pleasure of knowing you. I want to say thank you for the memories, and the life lessons you have given me.”