Classroom zen: Gantzer takes her future back

By Michael Linnell
University Communications Director

MINOT, N.D. – Perseverance so perfectly describes Shelby Gantzer that she ended up getting the word tattooed on her body.

“It’s something I see every day. What happens next, I don’t know, I have to go day by day,” she said.

Gantzer fulfilled not only a life-long goal for herself by graduating at Minot State in December with an elementary education degree, but also something her grandfather’s wished for his granddaughter.

“His goal was for me to graduate,” Gantzer said. “I put his photo in my (mortarboard). I know he was there that day. It was amazing.”

Her first three years of college had ups and down, but nothing atypical of the average student. At the end of her junior year, she had a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Gantzer’s life began to spiral.

She had a second seizure. She couldn’t remember information she had learned in class. Her test scores dropped. Then, she dropped out.

“I would go to class and have no idea what was discussed,” Gantzer said. “I would look at my notebook, the notes are there, I have them. But the doctors said because of the seizure, I will have a hard time remembering. I didn’t think students should have a teacher with epilepsy. I told my mom I wasn’t going to be a teacher anymore.”

For the next two years it was “a roller coaster of emotions” for Gantzer as she struggled with both the epilepsy and a lost sense of purpose. A friend of the family suggested she look into getting a subbing license and see if it was something she wanted to go back to.

After checking, she found out she had enough credits to get her subbing license. Gantzer was taking medication to control the epilepsy and decided that if she returned, she would have a plan.

“You know, students, kids, they are way better than adults at handling things like this,” she said. “I’ve been videotaped by an adult during a seizure. I don’t have to tell anyone I have epilepsy because of the disabilities act, but I’m not afraid of it and I’m not going to hide it. I make sure I go into the classroom with everyone knowing and I have a plan if something does happen.”

That renewed energy from substitute teaching helped Gantzer return to Minot State.

“I took two and a half years off and when I went back, I really found out that there were things I knew once but had forgot,” she said. “It was hard trying to keep up with the other students who just had classes I might have been in four years ago. I worked so hard.

“(Minot State professor) Lisa Borden-King helped me out so much, she worked with me on Saturdays to pass the Praxis test. The last semester, I thought about dropping out again, she wouldn’t let me. Wherever I go in life, I hope to be like her and have her in my life.”

Along with medication, Gantzer believes coaching basketball has helped stave off seizures. Finishing her schoolwork will hopefully continue to help ease some of her epilepsy triggers. Stress, in her case the stress of tests and schoolwork, is one of her biggest factors.

“There is a therapeutic line and I’m right under it,” she said. “Anything can throw you off and mine is stress. The stress of tests or whatever at home. In the classroom and on the court, I’m not stressed. In the classroom, I’m zen.”

Gantzer completed her degree in elementary education, but her passion is math. She hopes to teach math at the elementary or junior high level. She calls math “the dark side” because of her junior high math teacher Catherine McDermott.

“She told me to never apologize for loving math,” Gantzer said. “I absolutely love it. I can still remember the songs and poems that we learned in junior high and use them today in my classroom. My mom said Cathy turned me to ‘the dark side’ but I’m completely okay with that.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 01/10/20   

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