Breaking out of her shell

Posted on 10 September 2014 by admin

STLCC-Meramec instructor Michaella Thornton finds her words teaching English

English instructor Michaella Thornton listens as her students discuss a writing assignment. PHOTO | ASHLEY HIGGINBOTHAM

English instructor Michaella Thornton listens as her students discuss a writing assignment. PHOTO | ASHLEY HIGGINBOTHAM

Staff Writer

If students ask English and fiction writing instructor at STLCC-Meramec Michaella Thornton where she comes from, she will say “I come from squirrel and spumoni.”

In every class, she said she makes sure to tell her students where she comes from.

“I always tell people I came from a long line of people who ate squirrel and spumoni,” Thornton said.

She said her father’s side of the family was rural and lived off the land.

Her mother’s side was Italian, German, and Irish. While growing up with a diverse family may seem fun, she said she had a rough start with school.

“You are probably going to find this hard to believe, but I was exceptionally shy,” Thornton said.

Growing up, the extroverted, loud-laughing teacher struggled during her childhood. Her parents divorced when she was 7 and after moving from a rural school in Blue Springs, Mo to a suburban school in Blue Springs, acclimating to the changes were extremely hard for her, she said.

“I sat in the back of the classroom, did not talk much, and it was like that for several years,” Thornton said.

Until seventh grade hit, that is how everyone knew Michaella, whose name was always mispronounced.

“My name is not spelled phonetically, so everyone has called me McKayla, Mishayla; I’ve even been called Michelob,” Thornton laughed. “So I just go by Kella.”

In seventh grade, she came across an extracurricular activity that she actually liked – speech and debate. It was not until high school hit that she actually joined the club, though.

“I did it for four years in high school after my middle school exposure,” said Thornton.

Thornton debated on topics from the environment to immigration laws. She said she loved it so much that she made it to nationals.

“I went to nationals and I did horribly,” Thornton laughed.

She and her debate partner were not ready for the “Speed and Spread” round, which is to go as fast as you can and obtain as many points as possible, she said. Thornton said she feels that her Mid-Western accent kept her from taking the win. This was the last of Thornton’s speech and debate days, but it was then when she realized that she wanted to stick with writing.

“I had always loved to write and once I found my voice, I really liked learning,” said Thornton.

Thornton was accepted to the University of Missouri – Columbia, where she began her studies as a history major, but that was short-lived. After her first semester, she changed her major to anthropology, where she mostly studied cultural and biological anthropology. She then was a double major after adding on magazine journalism.

“I have a BA in anthropology, a BJ in magazine journalism and then I have an MFA in Creative writing with an emphasis in creative non-fiction,” Thornton said.

Reflecting back on her college years, Thornton said she grew up watching powerful female characters and wanted to be like Josephine March of Little Women and a journalist like Jo.

While her grandmother suggested that she find a nice boy and settle down, her granddad had other words to say.

“He just always said, ya know, study hard, work hard, you can do it,” Thornton said while grabbing the photo of him and her grandmother that she keeps above her desk.

She wanted to be a powerful, independent woman like Josephine and Jo, which did not mean finding a nice boy and “settling down”, as her grandmother did, she said.

After college, keeping her granddad in her mind, she packed up her red pick-up truck that she purchased with him, and headed East to North Carolina, where she began her first teaching job out of her undergrad.

“My first job out of my undergraduate degree was a program called Teach for America,” Thornton said.

She taught sixth grade language arts and social studies.

“Doing that experience made me want to combine my love for writing and journalism with my love for teaching,” Thornton said. “So after I figured that out, I went back to school and got to teach at the collegiate level.”

She never forgot her grand- dad in the process.

“He thought it was really important as a young woman to be educated,” Thornton said.

Remembering that he lived through the Great Depression and used to thresh wheat helped her realize that it was important to her grand- dad that she would not have to work as hard as he did.

Thornton began teaching in 2000 and became an adjunct teacher at STLCC-Meramec in 2008. She recently became full-time in January 2014.

“A student once said to me, ‘you know, you really made me work for this grade, but I appreciate it.’” Thornton said.

The student continued to say that he understands himself as a writer now and knows what he needs to work on, she said.

“I want [students] to know that they have an immense level of talent,” Thornton said, noting that she likes to start the writing process in the classroom.

“I feel like a lot of writing classes will sometimes hand out the assignment and say, ‘now go do it,’” Thornton said.

She wanders around the classroom and help students out so they do not go home confused.

“I like to show them things in action,” Thornton said. “Last but not least, I do bring food occasionally,” Thornton laughs. She knows writing can get exhausting and said she believes a little substance cannot hurt.

Telling her students that she is on the newer side of teaching at STLCC-Meramec does not bother her in any way.

“I’m less concerned about being right and more concerned about being fair,” Thornton said.


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