One of the best moments for me at NCTE last year was when Kelly Gallagher, whose work and commitment I've always respected, said in passing: "We should present together some time." And since you have three people to present at NCTE, we invited Penny Kittle, another teacher-writer whose work and ways we both admire.
So the three of us have been collaborating online, though email, the last few weeks to prepare a proposal. And the discussion is the reward, really. But the process has me thinking: What if we gave the same level of attention to each day's class, had to write it up as a proposal that would be accepted or rejected depending on its merit, its value?
Yes, of course, there are all sorts of awful sides to that idea---which I am not advocating, just to be clear---but the clarity that comes with thinking about how best to spend twenty minutes before a group who comes to learn from you: that challenges you. How could you possible propose to show a film for several days, or a period, or even more than a few minutes, really, and still get a meaningful effect, a powerful result? How could you justify to yourself spending a day let alone several constructing a model of the Globe Theater? Or having students just write about their feelings in response to literature day after day?
When you sit down to plan your next lesson, think of that class period as a session at some national convention like NCTE (which you should attend next year in Chicago). Make every minute count. Challenge your every idea: Why read that? Is that the best configuration for a discussion or is there a better one? Why have them only discuss the poem; won't the discussion provide a great foundation for them to then write a short analysis of the poem after the discussion? And so on.
The sessions everyone learns to avoid at NCTE are the ones where professors and grad students stand and read papers because they must "publish or perish." So they stand and read from the script of their own paper. They are not teaching; rather, they are telling.
And yet, as E. B. White wrote in one of his famous lines from Elements of Style: Every sentence should tell. Which is to say that it should do work, make a difference.
Only do what makes a difference, that's my credo. When I talk with Penny and Kelly (should I go by "Jimmy" when presenting with them for improved parallel structure?) these last few weeks, the exchange inevitably includes references to what we each did in class that day. What comes through in our remarks more than anything is that we are each pretty darn exacting of ourselves, which is what allows us to go in and ask so much of our students the next day.