I got to the school half an hour early. That gave me time to figure out how the projector worked before I got around to realizing I didn’t really have anything to project. My students started filing in fifteen minutes early, and kept on filing until about ten minutes into the class.
Ten minutes into the class….
Okay, as a long-time Tech Writer and successful co-host of a couple Writer’s Groups (forgive me, Courtney, for bestowing the title on myself, but it was a source of some confidence), I was confident I could just show up and talk, and that would fill up the class. Whenever we get together for one of our Writer’s Groups, I try to come up with a topic or two worth discussing, and somehow two hours disappear and I’ve barely even gotten started!
Technical writing isn’t quite the same, as far as discussion goes, and I wanted to come off professional so I felt like I needed a little bit of organization to it. To that end, I drew up a list of topics I wanted to hit. Just a little outline. So one o’clock rolled around, and I stood up at the front of the class, and my well-behaved students immediately fell silent….
And I discovered that nothing has changed since college, as far as my public speaking goes. And, no, being the professor made no difference whatsoever. My heart raced, I couldn’t form a coherent sentence, and every third word out of my mouth was “umm.” Dad would’ve been mortified.
Introduction to Technical Writing
Somehow I got through that, though. I gripped my outline for dear life, and launched into my first topic. I asked them about their majors — three English, four Computer Science, and six Other. I asked how many of them thought they might want to be Tech Writers someday, and the answer to that was an easy zero. I told them a little bit about myself, my time at OC, my experience in Tech Writing class, the sudden, desperate realization on graduation day that I’d never thought about getting a job, and then my two jobs (and seven years’ experience) in Tech Writing.
I told them a little bit about what Tech Writing is like — interacting with engineers and programmers, constantly working behind deadline, researching things you know nothing about in a desperate effort to make the inscrutable make sense. At one point, trying to stress the collaborative challenges of Tech Writing, I told them that one of the hardest parts is that you’re always trying to get information from a programmer or an engineer, but everywhere I’ve ever worked the engineers are just constantly hammered.
And then I stopped, and said, “And by hammered, I mean busy. Not drunk.”
That got a good laugh.
I got nods from the CS students when I said that software isn’t finished until it’s documented. I got nods from the English students when I said most of all the writing they’d ever done so far was either creative or academic, and (except for hobbies) that mostly ended at graduation. I got nods all around when I suggested, offhand, that most of them probably had no idea what Tech Writing was, or why they were in this class.
So I was trucking along through my outline, doing pretty well, and all I had left to do was go over the syllabus (including the homework schedule). Curious, I glanced up at the clock to see how much time I had left in my seventy-five minute class session.
And the answer was sixty-five minutes. Give or take one. I’d never intended to keep them for the full class on the first day (nobody does that), but I sure thought I had more than ten minutes’ worth of material!
So I started doing what I could to stretch it out, borrowing desperately from topics I intended to discuss later in the semester, expounding on things that didn’t need expounding on, and making my already-flustered speech even more so. I somehow dragged the class out to twenty-five minutes, and then I let them go. Of course, none of them complained.
As I was packing up my stuff, I spotted Gail out in the hall — the professor who’d taught my Tech Writing class way back when, and a friend of ours from church. She asked me how it had gone, so I ducked into her office and told her all about it.
She was sympathetic. She later told me the first day of teaching is always BRUTAL, and she had some good, specific suggestions for dealing with the big block of time. After that I seriously considered slipping out and going home, but I’d spoken with Dr. Agan (the department chair, and the one who’d hired me) before class, and I was pretty sure she was expecting me to stop by again. So I slunk up to her office, and she asked, “Well, how was it?”
And I said, “About a third as long as I expected it to be.”
She was just as encouraging as Gail had been, but I still drove home feeling miserable. Partly it was my physical response to standing up at the front of the class — I’d somehow convinced myself it wouldn’t be like that, so when it was…that was devastating. Not just for those ten minutes, but because it means I have that to look forward to for the rest of the semester. That’s daunting.
Then…well, to fill time, I’m going to have to do a lot more work than I’d realized. That’s not a terrible thing on its own, but I’ve been dreading how busy this fall was going to be for months, and that was before I learned how much more effort I’m going to have to put into my classes. I spent my drive home trying to figure out how I was going to even manage it, let alone find the time for my writing, for catching some football games, for playing a little WoW to unwind….
More next week.