I know that when it's time to assign a formal paper, it's fairly typical for a composition teacher to hand out specific essay topics, but I don't always do that. I prefer that my students go through the painful process of figuring out their own topics. After all, they've already read eleven essays, written five short response papers, and discussed all kinds of ideas in class. It's the third week of the semester. By now, each one of them ought to have something to say.
Besides, I tell them, college is not high school. From now on, they need to come up with topics on their own. It's more like real life. In real life, an English teacher does not appear in the clouds and hand you essay topics.
We walked through the brainstorming process today – coming up with a whole blackboard full of ideas. By the end of the class, many of the students were coming up with paper topics and scribbling them down. Stealing a phrase from Julie, I told them I expected them to bring an elevator pitch to class on Friday. As Julie explained over on her blog, an elevator pitch is an overview that can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, say thirty seconds or less.
Hollywood loves the elevator pitch. Through some twist in the plot, the underdog gets into an elevator with some important person, and he's got thirty seconds to convince Important Person that his idea is brilliant. We don't see the whole thirty seconds, we simply hear the first ten words, and then we cut to the next scene: the underdog walking out of the elevator with a triumphant smile. Oh, that's not the end of the movie, because always there is some love triangle that further complicates the plot, but that is the essence of the elevator pitch.
My students loved my dramatic explanation -- it's possible I included way more of the movie plot than I strictly needed to -- and I figured elevator pitch sounded way cooler than thesis statement.
But then my mid-morning class decided to be literal about the whole thing.
"Okay, let's actually do it on the elevator."
"WHAT?" I said. I hate elevators; they know this about me.
"Sure," one kid said, "We can all fit on the elevator."
"Let's do them on the elevator!" everyone started chiming in. My students never miss an opportunity to tease me.
"I hate riding the elevator!" I said. "I'm claustrophic. I get motion sick."
"We will help you face your fears, " Curly Hair said, in the kind of fake calm voice that these kids have heard their whole lives. "We are here for you. Remember, in a writing class, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable."
"You're all crazy," I said. "Why would we want to stand all crowded together in a box that moves up and down? How does that even make sense?"
"It'll be more realistic," said Dark-haired Woman.
"YOU ARE NUTS IF YOU THINK I AM GOING INTO AN ELEVATOR WITH ALL OF YOU."
"I'm asking you to challenge yourself," said Curly Hair, still in the fake teacher voice.
I tried to glare at him, but his imitation of me was too funny. I had to laugh.
They left happily chatting about their paper topics and assuring me that on Friday, they were going to help me face my fear of the elevator. I think they are kidding. I mean, I am pretty sure they don't really want to do these on the elevator.
But I am thinking I should have just called it a thesis statement.