I’ve been teaching on an undergrad and graduate level at a number of colleges for the last dozen years or so, usually 3-4 classes per term. I don’t teach required courses, or relatively conventional classes because I’m not the best person for them; traditional pedagogy isn’t something I ever studied, and my goal is to bring my unusual life experience to the students.
This upcoming term I’ll only be at Pace University, but with a nice diverse workload: undergrad creative writing program Writing Comics & Graphic Novels, graduate M.S. in Publishing program the practice of Comics & Graphic Novels, and my first-ever course in their business school, New Ventures In Arts & Entertainment Management.
I’ve always used guest speakers in my classes, and had some wonderful ones (Chris Claremont, Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Laura Lee Gullidge and Miss Lasko-Gross were among the ones we’ve had at Columbia; Vivek Tiwary and Fabian Nicieza are reoccurring ones at Pace). But what I learned from the plague years of teaching via Zoom, besides that I really prefer being in a physical classroom, is the ease of bringing in speakers from distant places when the school offers the right technology. And Pace usually does.
So last year for Alternative Literature & Media at Pace I was able to bring in a great range of folks: Cheryl & Wade Hudson, who founded Just Us Books (an early children’s book line featuring people of color), Lee Marrs (co-founder of WIMMEN’S COMIX, one of the few underground comix cartoonists to also contribute to DC, a computer animation pioneer), Isabel Yap (fan fictioneer turned sf writer(, and topping it off, Alison Bechdel (if I have to tell you who she is, not sure why you’re on this website). Needless to say, I learned things from each of them that I didn’t know. I was even able to get one of my former Columbia students who had done a wonderful paper on Fun Home to join in.
Speaking of learning, I seem to learn three categories of knowledge while I teach: first, ideas that I focus on as I try to codify what I already know to share with students; second, new slang (well, relatively new—I’m an old guy, after all) from my writing students; and third, the occasionally obvious thing that I overlooked or never considered. An example of the third was this past term, in a discussion of the external and internal media forms and how comics treads that line in an interesting way, the point was raised that song in musical theatre is often used as an internal form to reveal emotion and thought. Obvious, right? I just never focused on that, despite having enjoyed musical theatre since Fiddler as an adolescent.
Learning from students and the process, getting to share my experiences and others, and enjoying the vitality and energy of the young…overall, a very rewarding experience. And I’ll admit to a certain satisfaction from being a college dropout, whose odd life has enabled him to have entre to this profession. My colleagues used to occasionally point out that I was pedantic, and now I’m making constructive use of it.