Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
The other big trouble with it was a poor decision not to talk about the sources that were used in creating this pedigree chart. It was supposed to be a talk on pre-1500 A.D. European genealogy, a subject that to most genealogists dictates talking about sources. Instead it was a rambling, disjointed description of the worst sort of assumption-making without mentioning sources that I have ever seen. Half the audience had walked out before the hour was half gone. I felt sorry for the presenter, but angry too.
People who don’t consider their audience when they undertake to do a presentation deserve what they get when they badly misjudge all three essential elements: the audience, the message, and the medium, especially when they volunteer; this was not a case of arm-twisting here.
I have been asked to teach two classes at the local family history library. I teach one for beginners of several varieties: beginners who want to start, those who stopped for one reason or another back before the Internet was invented, those who want motivation to help keep going, and those who think everything is “all done” but who have been told to check things. With such a broad audience, I have worked and worked and worked on the presentations for this class, which runs five weeks. I started teaching it almost a year ago and have probably rewritten every presentation completely twice. Mostly I tweak things. I have practiced over and over, and most of my lessons have gone smoothly. I can think of only one that was too raw when I first presented it to be comfortable, but my class did not seem to mind. I rewrote it right away, and I have continued to tinker with it since then to make it as near perfect as I can. My partner who teaches the same class on a different day and I talk all the time about what we should change, what we should keep the same, and whether to expand what we offer. When your audience is broad, it affects the message and the medium drastically. How much do we cover? Should we add hands-on elements or stick to slide-show lectures with emailed files afterward? We constantly polish our presentations.
The second class is one I have not started to teach yet. It is on a genealogy software program that I tried out for the free 60-day period offered, and then I dropped it in favor of that company’s rival. How ironic that I should now be asked to learn the program I rejected as quickly as I can so that I can start teaching beginners how to use it! I will be five minutes ahead of my class at first, I think. I am sitting in on the class as offered by a man who is pretty skilled in the software, to see how he teaches and to pick up as many tips as I can, as quickly as I can. I have to teach it hands-on, which I have never done before. I have the rest of this month to prepare. Yikes!
I have been in the “five minutes ahead” teaching position before. When my friend Pam and I decided to apply to teach freshman English classes as graduate student instructors, we went into the English Department office to talk to the composition coordinator one Monday midway through the semester before we expected to start. The coordinator unexpectedly needed two instructors for two block classes that started the next day, and rashly, we agreed to try to fill the slots! We were young and foolish—no, crazy! She spent a couple of hours with us, going over everything we were going to have to do the next day in class. We got through the first day of class all right. That night, we were tutored again in what we had to do the next day. That’s how the block went for the first month. Every night we found out what to do the next day. Every night’s tutoring session was a little shorter as we learned how to manage the time and subjects ourselves. It worked—at least, our classes never realized how raw we were until we both told them, the last day, and they were astounded, every one of them. We were well assured that they could not tell that we had not been teaching for years, and my! that gave us confidence in our con-artist abilities. I mean, we became confident teachers.
How raw a presentation is does not depend strictly on the preparation that goes into it. The fourth element, after assessing and addressing the needs of the audience, message, and medium, is the presenter’s manner. Manner can be taught to some extent, but we all have endured people who cannot speak with animation or interest. I hope I can be interesting when I am talking about a program I rejected. Obviously, I won’t let my class know I rejected this program! I will be positive about it—and there are many things about it that help. Where this program has bells, mine has different whistles, and vice versa.
The poor presenter of yesterday (I use the word “poor” both in sympathy and descriptively) probably went home knowing the bitter taste of failure—we could plainly hear through the walls the enthusiastic applause at the end of someone else’s presentation and there was no applause in our room. I am inspired to put a lot of work into my classes so that the presentations are worthwhile for those who come, and I hope to be successful in “ripening” the raw materials.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
When I was driving around one day I saw a sign for a drive-through dog wash. How on earth would that work? I can’t imagine it, unless you have to hook up your dog to a little dog-cart and you hold the reins and drive your doggie through as if he were a little pony. But wouldn’t you get all wet too?
Of course, I always get all wet when I wash my dog. He is big, and he shakes to rid himself of excess water frequently, like every ten or twelve seconds. He squirms around a lot. You start rubbing doggie shampoo into one side and he promptly tries to turn that side away from you. You get very wet trying to reach around him and turn him and so on. His hair is long and curly too.
When he was still a little puppy (only 7 pounds of cuteness when we got him from the Humane Society), I washed him in the sink. Then he started growing, way too fast. I washed him in the bathtub, and we had to call a plumber to clean out the drain. “Don’t ever wash your dog in the house again,” he advised me. Oooops.
So I have to wait until the first warm day of spring to wash away all the winter doggie dirt. He was smelling pretty rank by the time I got to wash him last week. One winter I couldn’t stand it and took him to a doggie beauty parlor and paid to have him bathed. He returned to us late that afternoon looking and smelling very nice, but at a cost that I felt I could next time save and take myself and husband out to a nice dinner instead, and put up with the dog smell until spring.
The dog is getting old. He used to attack the stream of water issuing from the hose, no matter how small the trickle. He loved biting it, loved when I’d hold it up in the air and let him jump and jump for it, snapping madly and wagging his tail wildly. Now he slurps a couple times and then looks at me mournfully. “Are you going to soak me? Do I have to put up with it?” Enormous doggie sigh of resignation.
The breeze felt warm for the last day of March, but once that cold water hit him, and once he shook it all over me, we were both shivering as we felt the ice-tinged edges of a very early spring wind which brought snow the very next day.
Still, as he lay indoors and watched the snow steadily falling, falling, falling, he looked and smelled very nice indeed. The idea carried its own peculiar warmth.