English professor has a heart for his students

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

By Nicole Marie Wieland

Born and educated in Australia, Assistant English Professor Matthew Wilsey-Cleveland came to DCCC during the fall semester of 2012. Since then, he has touched the lives of many of the students.

Wilsey-Cleveland has taught at four different colleges: The University of New South Wales, St. Cloud State University, University of Colorado, and now DCCC.

Recently, I sat down with Wilsey- Cleveland, a Scrabble enthusiast, to discuss his passion for helping his students succeed through teaching.

How did you end up here at DCCC?

I applied to about 200 jobs everywhere around the world. The job I picked was at a small Midwestern college in central Minnesota called St. Cloud State. It was close to an Indian reservation. I imagined this little township shrouded in mist with dragons lumbering around.

Boy was that a mistake! It was so cold there! It gets to minus seventy degrees in winter. After that I got a job as a writing professor at the University of Colorado, in a great job working with amazing people.

After six years there I woke up one day and I decided that I want my legacy to be the lives that I help and the lives that I touch and help to shape, so I decided I wanted to be a community college professor.

So your reason for teaching at DCCC was to help people?

I come from a very poor background; both my parents came from big, uneducated families, so I saw them struggle so much. I

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wanted to work with folks who need it. I wanted to work with folks who I identified with. I was excited about that and this is the best job I’ve ever had. I love being here, and I love my students.

What is one of the most inspiring moments you’ve had with a student?

Early on my career I was teaching this night class and I had this student who was a hockey player. One day he came drunk into my office yelling and I just told him off! He started crying, and I gave him a hug and worked with him outside of class to get himself straightened out. He ended up becoming a straight A student.

How many colleges have you been to?

I’ve taught at four different colleges, but I’ve done guest lectures and done research at City University of New York, The University of Aarhus in Denmark, The University of Vigo in Spain. I like to go and look at beautiful campuses in different parts of the world.

What’s your favorite campus that you’ve been to?

It’s not the most beautiful, but my favorite college in the world is Columbia University. I don’t know why. I think [the band members of] Vampire Weekend were students there.

So you love music? What do you love to listen to?

I love independent and punk and classical, but I’ll listen to anything.

If you could pick one favorite band, what would it be?

At at the moment I still really like The Vaccines. They’re really fun!

What is one of your hobbies?

I surf really badly, I love being outdoors, obviously I read. I was a professional dancer until a drunk driver hit me and I fractured my spine in two places. I like playing Scrabble; I play nine games of Scrabble a day on the Scrabble app on Facebook.

Scrabble players are so mean! When they lose they’re like cursing you out and stuff! They’re like “You’re a cheat!” I’m like “No, I’m an English Professor; I’m going to beat you in Scrabble.”

What’s one thing that you wish your students knew?

What I wish students knew was how to get through college less passively. How to not just do things because they’re told, but to know the game and play the game. That’s what I try to do in my classes: get students to understand precisely the point of what they’re doing. Why they are here – that’s important to me.

Say I was a student in your class, and I was very poor; I had to work three jobs, I was trying to go to college full time, and we had a big assignment coming up but I missed the due date. What would be your reaction to that?

What’s important to me is communication. This is what I tell my students: My leprechaun died. Before my leprechaun died I could read minds; I had mind reading powers. Poor Seamus – bless his heart – he was murdered brutally in a back alley in Queens one night.

Since he died, I need my students to actually talk to me and let me know what’s

going on, because if my students talk to me I can support them. I’m able to help them navigate the problems that they have in their lives.

What’s one thing you hate about being a professor?

Administration, because it’s a lot of hoop jumping. I’m a professor because I want to teach; I don’t want to do tons and tons of paperwork. I love being around my students, helping them, and seeing the direct impact I have on their growth – as writers, as people. That makes me happy.

What’s got you worried about the state of education today?

The decreasing level of literacy and fluency amongst college-age students. That worries me a lot; that makes me really mad.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I could talk all day! I’m pretty quiet most of the time; I’m a hermit. One thing I’d really like to do in the future when I have more time, after I’ve gotten tenured, is to travel to a new country every year and do volunteering for wildlife.

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