Graphic Novels and Literature with Bill Council

Oct 11, 2016

A Brooklyn native, Outschool teacher William Council now lives in Ogden, Utah, where he does computer consulting and is president of Zephaniah Comics. Council earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, served in the Marine Corps during Desert Storm, and interned at Marvel Comics, where he explored his lifelong interest in storytelling and visual arts.

"Back in elementary school, we formed a comic book club," Council remembers. "In order to be a member, you had to do a full-fledged comic." When he saw an opportunity to apply for an internship at Marvel Comics, he jumped at it. “Avengers, X-Men; those were the comics I grew up with,” said Council.

While studying at Columbia, Council took freehand drawing "when digital was becoming an option." As technology improved, Council says he continued to work digitally, "even though I still have freehand skill." Today, he publishes his own comics, which spurred his move west to Utah, where he works as an IT consultant and has taught online for three years.

"Being out here started a lot of the questions that I bring to the history classes I teach," said Council. "Most of my viewpoint about the United States has been from the north or south; out west is just stuff that I'd read in books or seen on TV."

Compared to life back east, "there's a completely different culture out here," said Council, who's used his move as an opportunity to explore American history from a new perspective. He's taught three history classes aimed at students ages 9 to 12: US Geography, Three Branches of Government, and The Revolutionary War.

"I initially started with classes I'd taught elsewhere that I really liked and wanted to teach again," said Council, who also instructs students in science, math, biology, literature and digital art. Because Outschool parents can submit monthly requests for new classes, Council said he's become a much more engaged teacher.

"I see what matches up with my interests or the things that I'm curious or passionate about," he noted. "I had to teach common core before coming to Outschool. Now, I can teach whatever I feel like. My hands are free."

No matter the topic he's teaching, Council said he tries to impart critical thinking skills and looks for chances "to discuss bias with the students so they can understand that history is written by the winners."

Although Council has taught in traditional classrooms and has prior experience in homeschooling, he said Outschool parents take a more active interest in their kids' education than other parents he’s come into contact with.

"Before, I would have to call parents and play phone tag just to set up an appointment to teach their children," said Council. "Now, my challenge is getting parents not to do the homework!"

Council said students in his online classes are more likely to pay attention than pupils in a traditional classroom. "Kids are sitting in front of a computer, and their parent is sitting in the same room, so that creates more accountability and my hands are free now to actually teach," he said.

"I don't have to spend time being a disciplinarian, and that shows in my classes."

Because his largest class has five students, Council said he has more opportunities to work one-on-one, which makes a meaningful difference in creative writing and visual arts projects.

"One of the biggest benefits is that I get immediate feedback," he said. "You can see in a child's eyes when they understand something, and the parental feedback has been phenomenal."

In response to parent requests, Council has prepared new literature courses; a lifelong fan of Edgar Allen Poe, he now offers classes in which students analyze The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart. “I'm partial to literature, so I'm thankful that I'm getting enrollment to that,” he said.

Council also teaches creative writing, including Building The Short Story and Creating Comics and Graphic Novels. "It's one thing to write something and feel a sense of accomplishment, but it's another thing to teach someone your love for writing, and to see them run off with it,” he said.