By Kelli McDonald
Campus Eye contributor
A quiet, welcoming bark from a furry Collie named Sam. A genuine embrace and welcome into her home. Her kitchen and dining room are warm and cozy, welcoming and inviting, a true representation of its owner. Shannon Kirkeide is a Spanish professor at Anoka Ramsey Community College and in her home she carries herself with an aura of grace, contentment, and true kindness. Dressed in a sleek black outfit, she laughs about how she hadn’t had time to finish doing her hair. While putting away her breakfast dishes, she offers a cup of tea and chatted about the plans she has for the day.
Kirkeide’s comfortable personality is a tribute to her upbringing and her teaching career. At home and at school, she cares for her students and her peers, and that thoughtfulness carries over into many other areas of her life. She loves to spend time with friends. She says of herself and her husband, “Shawn and I are social bugs, we’re very extroverted, so we like to be around other people.” Her family life is laid back and casual, spending time with her three children reading, listening to music, and just hanging out to watch movies. “A big, rocking party…” Kirkeide happily calls her relaxed life.
Her introduction to languages is not a dreamy tale of foreign countries and romantic accents. In the small town of Hallock, MN, Kirkeide registered for high school French class. However, she was the only one to register for the class, which was offered via ITV (a series of classrooms in different schools taught via television). Since she didn’t want to sit in the classroom by herself, she ended up in Spanish class with the rest of her friends. Little did she know that decision would end up steering the course of her life.
Kirkeide had no intention of teaching. She had intended on pursuing a career in communications and started college with a communications major with a minor in music. While a camp counselor in 1992, Kirkeide met (future husband) Shawn Kirkeide, who was a teacher, and her path changed after that. She loved working with kids, and teaching seemed to be a “natural fit”, therefor she went back to college and earned her Spanish and English licensures. After college, she went straight into teaching, first for four years at a high school, then moving to Anoka Ramsey Community College. She has been at ARCC for 15 years. “So I totally bucked my dad,” Kirkeide exclaims, “since I was five he told me, never be a teacher, and never marry a teacher!”
Teaching Spanish has never been just about teaching a language. Kirkeide loves the act of connecting. She thrives on connecting with her students, walking around the room while they work and just listening to them learning. She says, “I tell my students all the time: You guys make me happy, just to be here.” To her, making a personal connection with her students is “paramount” to how she teaches. Her heart tells her that her students must know that they are “extremely valuable as a whole person, not just a student in my class”. Former student, and now close friend, Courtney Sperry says her first impression of Kirkeide was that she “genuinely cares or others and wants to see (them) happy…” Not only does Kirkeide connect with her students in class, but Sperry also says Kirkeide texts in Spanish!
She says she finds it fun to meet people and speak Spanish with them, to connect with them. The connections she makes with people have led to deeper relationships. Kirkeide says, “We all try to recognize that, the humanity, the soul, the importance of taking care of each other.” In small things, like offering a visitor tea, and in much bigger ways. Kirkeide’s good friend Gwen McDonald describes her friend as having a “passion with connection… on more than a surface level.” She goes on to say, “She wants to engage people and explore ideas, interests and beliefs.”
About seven years ago, Kirkeide was at the public library and overhead a man having a conversation in Spanish. Intrigued, she struck up a friendly conversation, excited to use her talent. She quickly discovered the heart wrenching details of this man’s current state. The humanitarian in Kirkeide woke up, and she had no choice but to act. Shannon says her gift of languages “opens my heart… Opens my eyes to the plight of other people and their experience”. Kirkeide seeks out those opportunities to connect with people “on a different level”, a deeper level. She says, “I want to speak Spanish with them, but I really want to know… Who are you, why are you here?”
Kirkeide’s alter ego is an somewhat of hippie, she says, “I think in a parallel universe that’s what I’m doing: trotting around the globe, living with the minimum necessities to support a group of people, help them realize their potential…” She values her family and life too highly to pursue that dream, and instead will focus on making deeper connections with her students and continuing to seek out those that might share a connection with her. When asked if she has any goals for the humanitarian inside of her, she says, “My plan is to continue to act in love in all that I do, recognizing the unique spirit and beauty in each person I meet. I feel like if I continue to live by this rule, things naturally evolve, shift, and open my mind (and) heart to new experiences and gifts.” Wise words that the world would do well to live by.