Mathew Dean, who graduates this spring with his master’s degree in English education, discusses how he became interested in teaching, his experiences in the master’s program and his advice for students considering applying to Georgia State University.
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a degree in English education?
A: “I grew up in a trailer nestled between a highway and a couple of acres of wild wood about 10 miles outside of the small county seat I called my hometown. My home life was tumultuous, with an abusive father and the intense poverty often described in Southern Gothic tales, but I had my mama, my brothers and stories.
Reading and writing were my escapes, as they often can be for those that are lost, but I was troubled because I never saw myself in what I read or watched. I found myself identifying with the often underdeveloped female characters or in the books I had access to and TV. When I began to consume media made by women and/or people of color, I began to see characters that made sense, but always saw myself within the women, which led me to question my own identity. My burgeoning queerness was not encountered with the same grace it would have been today. My family, my church, my school and my community were against me. Even still, I had my stories and I had Mrs. Mary Ann Ellis, my 11th and 12th grade Honors and AP English teacher. She cared for me while also having a fundamental Christian faith. She taught me how to think critically and how to question the world around me. She gave me hope that people are good.
After graduating high school, I knew that my place was to put the same kind of good into the world as Mrs. Ellis did. I followed her lead and began college, becoming the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree and later, my master’s degree. Throughout my academic career, there were ups and downs – family deaths, my parents’ divorce, my mama growing into an amazing woman, my three-year battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a global pandemic and learning to love myself. Though I know it hasn’t been easy and there will be more difficult times on the way, I have a purpose now: I will teach kids how to think critically and powerfully and to question the world around them. I will keep kids safe from the things they can’t control, and I will show whoever I can the power of language.”
Q: What was your favorite memory from your time in the College of Education & Human Development?
A: “My favorite memory isn’t so much a memory as a general feeling about the experience. My cohort consists of some of the best people I’ve ever met, and my professors and instructors are truly some of the most amazing people I’ve known. Without my peers and instructors, I simply would not have seen the end. To my cohort: Thank you all for being both insane and tenacious. You kept me going during the times I thought I was going to break, and I hope I was able to bring happiness to you. To Dr. Klein, Dr. Zoss, Dr. Sullivan, Mr. Brune and Mr. Briody, thank you for believing in me and helping me learn how to believe in myself. I am forever grateful to all of you.”
Q: What are your post-graduation plans/goals?
A: “Now that I’ve graduated, I’m just trying to remember how to relax a little bit. These past two years have been nothing but consistent work and personal change, and it all finished amidst the whole world shutting down due to COVID-19. I’m using this time of quarantining to just do only things that make me happy. I sleep, work on my art, read, work on my novel, disconnect, watch all the movies I’ve been waiting to see but didn’t have the time to watch, find house projects, make memories with my roommates and try to make the most of what we have been given. After the summer, I hope to begin my career teaching in Atlanta. I want to stay for a few more years, but I have lived in Georgia my whole life and have not had the means to explore outwards. I look forward to being able to travel over the summers to see how big the world is and to find the place that brings me the most peace.”
Q: What advice would you give future students who are considering attending Georgia State University?
A: “The best advice I could give is to make sure you are being taken care of. Surround yourself with the people who care most for you, take the classes that will most nourish your mind and soul, learn to actually take care of and be kind to yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help and always push yourself harder. We are so much stronger and more resilient than we know. We tend to default into the easiest options when times are difficult, and I don’t think that is how we grow and develop. Remember that there’s a difference between easy and efficient. Always care. Always try. Always change. There is an infinite amount of possibilities within our universe, why shouldn’t the same be true about you?”