James Brunt leans back in his chair, making idle chit chat with those students who have arrived early to his class. As the others begin to trickle in, the adjunct assistant professor of English 102 informs the class that, tonight, as a prelude to the next novel, he would be teaching them about comedy. In a moment, the room is dark and the BBC show “The Office” flickers across the projector screen. The episode is called “Training,” and features a manager playing the guitar and singing out of tune in the middle of an office.
“I used ‘The Office’ to illustrate different types of comedy, such as verbal, physical, the idea of juxtaposition, stuff like that,” Brunt said. “The show is pure genius.”
This is only one of the many eccentric methods of teaching that Brunt has to offer. In addition to years of writing experience, the 32-year-old combines a unique sense of humor, an understanding of his students, and a vast knowledge of the English language in order to create a relaxed classroom environment that undergraduates enjoy.
“I find it very easy to be sympathetic towards my students because I understand writing isn’t easy,” he said.
He would certainly know. Brunt has had short stories published in various literary magazines, six plays produced Off-Broadway in New York City and a play published in England, although he claims to have never set foot inside the country.
On this particular class day, Brunt wears a green collared shirt, jeans and flip-flops. The girls in the class look at him and smile. Giggles fill the room as he cracks a joke.
“I try to be down-to-earth and not really worry about it [my teaching style],” Brunt said.
Marissa Panico, a sophomore media studies major at Suffolk University, had Brunt for English 102 when she was a freshman at Quinnipiac.
“I liked his teaching style because I could relate,” she said. “I feel like he came down to the students level while teaching and it made the students more interested in what we were learning.”
This ability to relate to his students is no surprise. Although he describes himself as a “complete dork” who likes teaching because his students make him laugh, Brunt followed the Grateful Dead tours for several years after being born and raised in Branford. After the band’s dissolution, which was almost too sad for him to discuss, Brunt went back to school to acquire a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Iowa and a Master’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University. He began teaching at Quinnipiac in January 2006.
“His classes are very laid back, but at the same time material is covered and you are really learning something,” Panico said.
Brunt would be happy to hear this, as he claims that his main goal as a teacher is to make sure that his students leave his classes as better writers than they were the day they met him.
According to his students, he’s succeeding. His relaxed and interactive approach to teaching seems to be keeping hands raised, minds open, and classes full.
“Good teaching is like good improv,” Brunt said. “You take what’s given to you, run with it and don’t look back.”