My literary and professional life-partner, Michelle Gonzales, and I are getting ready for a conference in LA later this week.
Here is what we might wear when we give our presentation:
Or I don’t know; I probably have some halfway professional clothes in the bottom of my drawer somewhere.
I don’t like going to conferences. To begin with, I don’t like going anywhere. I really, really like where I am on a regular basis, and I am a little stubborn about not wanting to go other places. Also, I have conference trauma, based on my experiences in graduate school. Granted, I only went to a few conferences, but they were generally like the one I went to on Surrealism: five panels going on simultaneously, one big name at each time slot so everyone attends that panel, all other panels attended by a sparse group of people who a) have some very vague interest in your topic, b) know you personally and feel sorry for you, or c) have a personal vendetta against the famous person on the well-attended panel.
The panels themselves consisted of four or five presenters reading pre-written papers that the audience had to listen to without any visual aid or reference. The papers were always about texts that almost no one had read–that’s the nature of English studies–so the audience nodded along and listened for points they could remember long enough to agree or disagree. During the discussion portion of the panel, the audience members would ask questions about their own area of study and how it related to the topic of the presentation, like “Wouldn’t Freud’s idea of the ‘death drive’ undermine the thesis of your paper?”
Basically what I’m trying to say is that I never learned anything at a conference. Not while I was in graduate school, anyway.
During my final year of grad school, during my annual meeting with the department chair, she sternly told me that my CV needed more conference papers, and that I should aim to speak at two or three conferences that year. “Okay, I’ll do that,” I nodded, straight-up lying to her face. I had my own plans for that year, and one of them was no conferences.
Since then, I’ve been to a few great conferences. The Future of Minority Studies group put on brilliant, collaborative conferences. They would have everyone read the same several books in preparation, and keep the conference size small so everyone could be at every discussion and presentation, rather than simultaneous panels. I learned a ton at those conferences, because they were structured as a change for real collaborative learning, rather than a chance for people to show off and build their resumes.
The conference we’re attending this week will be a big conference with multiple simultaneous panels. Our presentation is up against a big name; in fact, we’re up against the group that organized the conference. So I’m not getting my hopes up for a big audience. I’d just like for there to be more audience members than presenters.
But the good thing is that we’re presenting on a great topic: acceleration for basic skills students. Over 50% of community college students place into courses below college level (often because the placement test is poorly designed). Acceleration is the philosophy and practice of getting these students into college level courses as quickly as possible, rather than making them take multiple semesters of remedial classes. It’s a really important topic (my friend Sara just recommended this great book to me if you want to know more about it).
The other good news is that this conference is about teaching, and teaching conferences are pretty much always good. No one is at a teaching conference just to show off during their own presentation and scoff at other people’s presentation. Everyone is there to get good, practical ideas that they can bring back to their own colleges.
Michelle and I taught an accelerated course at our college, so we’ll be presenting on our hard work and the work of our colleagues in designing and implementing this course. It’s a great topic, and I think we created a pretty sweet presentation about it (get this…it has 38 slides) (some with graphs and charts and shit).
So onward, step on the gas, take us to the conference. I just really hope I learn something. I am pretty sure I will…and I bet I will learn it fast.