Comics and the dreamy, anxious underworld of teacher education

The iconic image of a student staring out the classroom window daydreaming of anything but the lesson at hand might be a reality that teachers try to avoid. David Lewkowich, a professor of Secondary Education, doesn’t see these moments as a distraction but as an important part of what is happening in the classroom.

“Every student and every teacher, while we are all focusing on a lesson, a topic or a concept, there is still so much else happening in that classroom,” explains Lewkowich.

“It’s an intermingling of memories, bodies, people on the edge of sleep, hallucinating, being distracted. The question is, how do we talk about this?”

No stranger to using comics in the classroom and in other creative ways, Lewkowich explored the familiar medium with his students last summer, asking them to take their dreams seriously and create a comic about a dream set in school. This experiment inspired his upcoming talk on Thursday, March 25 where he posits that reading comics and dream interpretation have more in common than you might expect.

“Both kinds of text demand interpretation and neither have a single way to read them,” says Lewkowich.

“Especially because the comic is represented on the page in panels with gutters in between–– these moments of interruption where it is uncertain what is happening. There are gaps or blank spaces. The same with dreams. The dreamer can move to a totally new realm or space and there is no rhyme or reason why. It’s only in retrospect that you can try to unravel it, but when you are dreaming about it, you don’t think about it. Same with reading a comic, you don’t necessarily question why you are there. You read it like you watch a film. It’s only when you slow down, think about it and interpret it that you see the strange gaps that exist.” Lewkowich’s original goal for the experiment was to explore the mental work that dreams do for the dreamer, and how it can be particularly impactful for teachers and in teacher education.

“Though we can prepare our students in teacher education well for lesson and unit planning or different pedagogical methods and skills, what we can’t prepare them for at all is the emotional realities of the classroom,” he says.

“I do think it helps to remind students of this fact and to make the emotional confusions of teaching manifest in some way, recognizing that you can’t always fully translate this into words. Although we know that the dream is the dreamer self-communicating, there is a tendency to think that there is something else or that the dream is telling us something more—that we should listen to it carefully so that we might learn something about who we should be in the future.”

Another one of the goals of the task was for the students to learn firsthand about the discomfort of imperfection in teaching and learning.

“I want them to have the experience of communicating in modes that they are not comfortable with, to risk themselves, and to recognize it’s okay to not know how to do something perfectly,” he explains.

“I think that’s really important for teachers because there is no perfect answer or pedagogy, but to recognize that it’s okay.”

Dr. David Lewkowich’s presentation, Comics and the dreamy, anxious underworld of teacher education, takes place at noon on Thursday, March 25 via Zoom.