Aga is a Ph. D. student and tutor studying at Middlesex University in the UK. She recently presented a paper to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts titled: “The Magic of Self-Sacrifice in Fantasy Literature.”
‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’ asked the philosophy lecturer during my first year at the University of Silesia. Most of my fellow students in crime looked around the room clueless, but I knew my answer: an academic.
By this point in life I knew I loved teaching. The only problem was – I didn’t want to teach anybody under the age of eighteen. I had very vivid memories of primary and high school – and coming back there voluntarily was not my thing. I also knew I loved literature, especially fantasy, and I wanted to study it till the rest of my days (yes, once you decide on a PhD – the ship has sailed, bon voyage, arrivederci amore, say goodbye to the world – it is your happily ever after).
Of course, little did I know that teaching what you specialise in does not come along with a PhD student ID card. It takes experience in the world of academia (and your discipline) to get the longed-for module and sometimes years may past while you sing ‘One day my dean will come…’ before you finally get it. So basically, you’re doomed from the start. Or are you? Not necessarily.
Teaching what you’re really excited about can take many forms and I am lucky to have had teachers and colleagues who showed me the way and the magic ‘how’. The person I want to thank the most for an intensive course in ‘sneaking’ is my colleague Ben Little. He is, beyond a doubt, the absolute master in this sneaking-into-teaching craft. For Ben, comics are his ‘precious’. His module readers are full of them, regardless whether he teaches essay writing, history of magazines or politics. I had no idea before I’d started working with him that there are so many theories, methods, and strategies that we teach to our students available in comic form. Ben’s recipe is always: add a pinch here and there, between the pages of the module reader. And if you can, go ahead and treat yourself by sneaking a whole class or a lecture on what you like best. Following Ben’s footsteps, I am extremely proud to announce that I’ve recently managed to sneak a workshop on writing fanzines for my media students. I’ve brought a whole pile of old fantasy and science fiction zines (which I had from a convention, of course) and let them discover the seven beauties of zine writing. And what fun it was!
Thanks to Ben, I’m discovering new ways of teaching through the use of material I know best. It is not rocket science; it is the craft of sneaking. I invite you to experiment with me. Sneak along. And for the time being I propose a medal for Ben – the King of Sneakers.