January 10, 2003

Talk the Talk ~ Part One

Well, this started out to be a brief reply to those who asked how it went yesterday recording the essay for the radio. Ask a simple question, and ya get the following discourse on public speaking. (Short answer: okay, mostly. It will be aired this morning ~ 6:55 and 8:55 EST here.)

I read a survey recently that said that the two most feared things for American adults were 1) snakes; and 2) public speaking.

Well, I want you to know, this makes me feel at least 50% more confident than the average citizen, 'cause I ain't afraid a' no snakes. (For Fred's snake credentials, see these Snake Stories here). I'm not particularly afraid of public speaking, either. Or at least I didn't used to be, after I learned how to breathe and talk at the same time.

When I was 26 years old, I was forced into public speaking. Most of the day. Every day. I walked into the community college classroom and found forty nursing students waiting for me to teach them everything I knew about Human Anatomy and Physiology. Unfortunately, that wasn't a whole huge lot. I was starting to think I had made a bad move when I had bluffed my way into the teaching position, saying yeah, great, sure I'm comfortable with A & P. This with only a single physiology class to my credit. I figured I'd pick it up as I went along.

So, there I stood in fear and trembling, a vastly inexperienced brand-spanking-new teacher with only a passing familiarity with my highly complex topic. Now this ought to be fun. I made some introductory comments about the textbook in a squeaky voice, feeling my pulse throbbing in my ears. But I had come with a plan to give me a chance to calm down my initial angst, and a way to soften up my students, win their confidence, make them laugh... always a good beginning in a relationship that will last for two long quarters in the hardest course in the nursing curriculum.

I use a hand-written transparency. I use the accepted teacherly method of covering all points but the top one, then the second, as I go through ten of Murphy's Laws ... a lighthearted way to say we'll have problems, but it's to be expected and we'll get through it. I looked up from the projector, and lo and behold, forty students are all hunched forward, leaning over their notebooks, writing down every word I said like their lives depended on it. Hold on here, ladies. Chill. You missed my point entirely. Well, that went over like a lead balloon.

Let's move on the the ice-breaking first joke of our relationship. I shift into my scholarly voice.

I turned and wrote in large chalk letters on the board... H O R M O N E

Ah, this is a little bit scientific sounding. But of course they will see an A&P joke coming here.

"Does anybody know how to make a hormone" I asked with a slight grin?

Furtive eyes glance at each other or find some point of extreme interest down on the linoleum floor between rows of desks. It's time for the punchline, and the welcome comic relief. I anticipate the warm glow of laughter signifying the beginning of student-teacher bonding... okay, here we go...

"DONT PAY HER!" I said with a big grin.

Bada bing bada bang. Nothing. The most nothing I have ever heard. One person in the back of the room chuckled self-consciously. One out of forty. Dear Minerva, I'm dying here.

To be Continued....

Posted by fred1st at January 10, 2003 05:22 AM | TrackBack

The first day of classes always scares the Holy Bejeezus out of me! I am, at core, a shy enough person that I find the idea of standing in front of a room full of unfamiliar students for the first time attempting to make some sort of positive impression HUGELY intimidating. And when you're joking around to break the ice a bit and they're not laughing it's just SOO awful, and you can't tell if (1) they don't get your jokes; (2) they get the jokes but are (a) unsure about whether or not it's Okay to Laugh in the classroom, or they're (b) Too Cool to Laugh in the classroom; (3) they get the jokes but don't think the jokes are at all funny and, what's more, they think that you are Unspeakably Lame; (4) they're offended by the jokes and will be heading over to the department to talk to your Chair as soon as class is over; or (6) they weren't even listening to you anyway.

Posted by: Artichoke Heart at January 10, 2003 04:00 PM

Hmmm...I am beginning to understand why your wife edits. ;-D

Posted by: feste at January 10, 2003 05:09 PM

Oh Fred...please don't tell me you used THAT one!


I remember some of those same nursing students coming to me, the lowly lab assistant, and complaining about how tough your class was. I said, "Ladies, someday my life may be in your hands. If that ever happens, I hope and pray that you studied hard for Fred's class. If you didn't do well in A&P, then maybe you'd better pick a different profession." Or something like that...I didn't come across as quite that strong, but I made my point. I felt sorry for you that you had to put up with so many whiners.

Posted by: Curt at January 12, 2003 07:54 PM

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