Adjuncting is the worst. The pay sucks, there’s no benefits, they rewrote the rules so Obamacare doesn’t apply to us, you technically don’t get paid for the majority of the work you do, and even congress has compared it to indentured servitude before doing jack shit about it. Students are often disrespectful and most of them don’t even want to be there, and then when they screw up, complain to your boss who is now more likely to give in to the student because enrollment is down and make you the bad buy for having a work ethic. Wait, where was I going with this. Bad pay, no benefits, it sucks, yada yada yada…oh, right…
Sometimes, it rewards you with the best fucking feeling ever.
I’ve been teaching a First-Year Writing course focusing on Graphic Novel Literature for five years now. And while I’ve had great students throughout those five years, my first year was the most magical. My students were incredible and they amazed me in the developments they made. A few of them I’ve even kept in touch with and became friends with a couple years later. It’s two of these students who have recently reminded me why I do this at all. What makes teaching worth it.
Graphic Novel Literature. In other words, we read X-Men in my class. I mean—hell yeah we read X-Men. We also read Persepolis and Maus and other “serious” ones, but we run the gauntlet from the biography darlings to Superheroes, straight up. And that’s the point—we have the same level of intense discussion for Ms. Marvel that we have for Fun Home.
One of these conversations is the legitimacy of graphic novels. The old guard would say that they have no place in a college classroom. They are mindless and only meant to be fun. I challenged one of these old-timers to read Watchmen. And they came back going “Comics are supposed to be fun. This isn’t fun. This was sad and depressing and serious.” Oh, and he loved it.
So, we talk about what comics and what they are: a medium, and then they start talking about what makes them “legitimate” and how what can be done with them. This first class? They got so deep into the discussion, I didn’t talk for an entire class period. I just let them discuss it back and forth—I only had to cut them off when another class started to peep in the door.
Now, four years later, I’m throwing a Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies Superbowl-themed party. Yes. We do that. About to start my fifth year teaching this class. And two of my students from that first class are there (one cries when Kili yells at Thorin and Thorin apologizes. I’ve seen the scene enough to be able to hold back). I give them and some other friends a lift to the train station, and they start talking about video games.
Their conversation was about how you can do anything with games. They can be sad and depressing. They can be open-ended. They can be about anything. One of them is a game designer now (they grew up) and someone complained that her game wasn’t “fun”—that was the point. It wasn’t supposed to be fun. It was an interactive story about abuse, which sort of blows my mind thinking of how video game literature studies will look in 20 years if she’s part of the conversation. They go on, talking about how it’s a medium, not a genre…and it’s the same conversation I got my class to have four years ago, except it’s not for a class. It’s just two adults in a car talking casually, but their conversation is as sophisticated as any I’ve seen in an academic setting.
And then a “oh shit” moment hit me. A moment of pride that sucker punched my tear ducts. I got them talking about this. I challenged them to defend graphic novel studies, to think about them beyond a genre, and then let them at it, and watched them analyze and think and defend. And they were still doing it, now with video games. These two awkward teenagers from just a few years past now very confident young 20-somethings having a better conversation about literary merit than a good portion of my peers.
I TAUGHT THEM SOMETHING! AND IT WORKED!
But how often can we see our students several years later and see how they retained what we taught them. I just hope, if it worked for these two, it’s worked for others. It helps that they were both already two of the best students I’ve ever had, and they could probably get there on their own, but um…I’m taking credit anyway.