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At the front of her classroom, she, without being overbearing, commands attention. Strikingly tall, with medium no-nonsense blond hair and open, frank blue eyes, Shantra Muther is in her special domain.
Muther is a professor of the difficult discipline of English as a Second Language. With a diverse classroom of students, identifiable from all parts of the world, they await her every word. It is through her expertise and instruction they know they will truly become citizens of their new nation, the United States.
As a professor — and student — of the English language, Muther takes great care to find just the right words to describe her background and experiences: How she got interested in and involved with ESL, how she made the exciting and bold commitment to teach for a year in Korea and finally, how she returned to her hometown of Sacramento to work first as an instructor of ESL to adults, then as an adjunct professor, and finally as a full-time professor in the City College English as a Second Language department.
In her mid-40s now, Muther has acquired the wisdom and experience, through years of application and hard work, to rise to the top of her chosen field in a very challenging profession.
“I appreciate the fact that community college professors are respected as true professionals and have a voice in instructional decisions made on campus,” Muther says.
Muther is admired by her City College colleagues.
“Shantra is the ultimate professional,” says professor Sandra Kawamura, an ESL instructor at City College. “She is very responsible.”
Muther calls up memories of her past, growing up in Sacramento, her experience teaching in South Korea and her teaching at City College.
“I’ve always loved the English language,” Muther says. “It fascinated me even when I was in grade school. Most of the other kids were…” She stops, apparently choosing her words carefully. “Not so interested, to put it diplomatically.”
Muther says she began her career “by chance.” She was offered the opportunity close to 20 years ago to teach English
at a “hagwon,” a cram school for South Korean children.
“Korean kids are, in general, great to work with,” she says. “They are taught from a very young age to be respectful of adults.”
It was a rewarding experience for her.“After that, I never looked back,” Muther says.
Muther returned to her hometown after her teaching stint in Korea ended. She took a position teaching ESL to adult students in downtown Sacramento.
“I heard there was an adjunct position open for an ESL instructor at Sacramento City College,” she says. “I applied for it and I was hired.”
That was in 2002. Six years later, a full-time ESL position opened, she applied and got it.
“I love working at City College,” she says. “The student body is diverse and ever-changing. I feel I learn as much from the students as they learn from me, and that really excites me.”
Muther’s students and her col- leagues respect her.
“Shantra is a great officemate,” says her office mate, English professor Danny Romero. “She is courteous, respectful and fun to talk to.”
Learning the English language as an adult presents many challenges. It is by no means easy. But the challenge is accepted by the many adults who come to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
“I believe in the mission of community college,” Muther says. “Unlike
a university, a community college is for all members of the community. We have students here of all ages and backgrounds I think that is something really special.”
For the few who come to City College, fewer still among those will have the good fortune to find themselves in Muther’s classroom. There they will have a rich and rewarding experience, benefiting from the care, the expertise and the professionalism of Muther, now at the height of her career and a master of the difficult art of teaching English as a Second Language.