I was recently in yet another virtual professional development workshop, and if I am honest, I spent about 80% of my time listening in on what the presenter was saying, and the other 20% catching up on emails and putting out fires…I may be fibbing on the ratios, but you get the gist.
I was doing this half-listening, half-putting out fires routine when my attention was caught by the presenter’s questions: “Why are you here?” “Why this profession and this campus?” “Why do you teach?”
Now is as good a time as any to share my “why” with you.
I was conditionally accepted to K-State’s English MA program. I don’t share that a lot. I graduated from UCM in 2005 with a BA in English Literature and a 2.88 GPA. I wasn’t what some might deem a scholar. I had no idea how to even turn myself into one; I didn’t know that was a pathway for me. After graduation, I returned home to my mother’s three-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment and found that my bedroom had been taken over by 4 of my relatives who were in need of not-so-temporary housing. I had no place to rest, or to think. I quickly began searching for my opportunity out of there. I needed to see more…to be more than what I thought was my current trajectory.
My time at K-State began in the fall of 2006. Here I was, conditionally admitted, farther from home than I had ever been, and beyond scared of what lie ahead. They wanted me to teach, and I wasn’t prepared. I had told myself that people like me—the underprepared, the underrepresented, the unworthy—didn’t stand in front of people and pretend like they had it all together. Was I supposed to put up my hoodies and Air Force Ones for “adult clothes”? (My grandmother would say yes.) Did I have to start talking like somebody else now? Did I have to start talking??
I could have stayed with that thinking, but I chose not to. I allowed myself to feel the discomfort and to push beyond that place. I decided to be a student—to actually read, research, and engage in classroom conversations that at one time would have made me mute. I participated in conferences, won awards for teaching, and forever changed the trajectory of my life and my profession. Once I learned how to successfully “student,” I graduated from K-State in 2008 with a 4.0 GPA and a clearer understanding of my life’s work.
My time at K-State opened the door for me to successfully defend my dissertation in 2020 (during a global pandemic), and earn both a 3.5 GPA and a Ph.D. in English from Howard University in Washington, DC. These educational opportunities gave me the confidence to seek out and accept positions that allowed me to: travel across the country training administrators, faculty, and students in collaborative learning techniques for Supplemental Instruction; oversee a multi-million dollar federal grant; direct and develop first-year experience programs at multiple Universities; return to Howard University as a full-time Lecturer; and currently work as an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Literature and Composition at Anne Arundel Community College in Columbia, MD. I also continue to develop student success and retention programs in my dual appointment as a Transfer Studies Program faculty mentor. What motivates my work is a strong desire to help students see beyond their current trajectory and to know that it is possible to surprise even yourself.
As I come to the end of this blog post, I am reminded of a meeting I had with Gregory Eiselein in 2007 or so. During our conversation, Greg said something like, “Yeah, that makes sense that you’d be a quiet thinker. You’re a writer.” On that day, I decided to finish what I started at K-State. He saw me beyond my conditional admission, my reluctance to speak, and all the things I secretly told myself about my ability to be a scholar. I owe a lot to the English faculty at K-State, so I work everyday to pay it forward to the students, faculty, and staff that I get to work with every day.
— Shaunte Montgomery (MA ’08)