When Dr. Michael Melton (96, 16) decided to pursue a career in education, he knew he wanted to make a significant impact. However, that dream didn’t require a big move. He didn’t even have to change his zip code.
“I am teaching in my chosen content area and I am teaching from my home county,” said Melton, who serves as the athletic administrator at Letcher County Central High School. “It was the first place I was fortunate enough to be hired as an educator. I have been offered other positions in other districts but so far, I have stayed here. I am fortunate to live less than three miles roundtrip from Letcher County Central High School and am blessed to live in a nice community.”
Melton’s enthusiasm for teaching is only enhanced by the fact he gets to do it not just in his home county, but in a rural community where he can see his efforts making a tangible difference that has the potential to be felt for generations.
He grew up in Whitesburg, Kentucky, in a family that valued hard work and faith. Both of his grandfathers, Henry Melton and Edley Hampton, were coal miners and his “Papaw Henry” was an Old Regular Baptist minister, a calling Melton would fulfill later in his life. His mother and father, Margarette and Gale, never attended college but both worked hard to make sure their children were afforded greater opportunities.
“I was raised with a tradition of serving others before myself. That it was better to give than to receive. It was more important to do the right thing than to do what was convenient or what benefitted me most,” Melton said. “My mom always has told me no matter how good I have completed some project that I could always do better. I hated it as a young boy, but it drives me as a mantra as a man.”
After initially attending college to become a mechanical engineer, he decided to pursue his love of history and social studies and major in education, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies, Secondary Education, grades 7-12, in 1991 from Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes. Following graduation, he continued his education at MSU, initially enrolling part-time in the fall of 1991 before enrolling full-time in 1995 to earn a Master of Arts in Secondary Education in 1996. During this timeframe, Melton also pursued his sports interests, attending the Harry Wendlestedt’s Umpire School in Ormond Beach, Florida, graduating in 1992 and becoming a Minor League Baseball umpire for two seasons in 1992 and 1993.
On the way to earning his master’s degree, Melton applied for a graduate assistant (GA) position with the Department of Foundational Studies in Graduate Education (FGSE) and received the 1996 FGSE Graduate Assistant of the Year award. The more time Melton spent at MSU, the more education he wanted to pursue and he earned the Doctor of Education, P-12 Educational Leadership, in 2016.
“The one thing that I have always appreciated about MSU was the compassion of the professors,” he said. “One of the things that has always stayed with me from my multiple years on and off-campus at MSU has been the thoroughness of the professors in the classes I have taken and the compassion they have had for their students.”
Since starting his education career in Letcher County, Melton has held positions ranging from an elementary school principal and high school assistant principal to school bus driver and either a coach or assistant coach for sports like girls’ basketball, football, baseball and volleyball. In addition to his current role as the county’s athletic administrator, he is also the Kentucky High School Athletic Director’s Association (KHSADA) education program director and a KHSADA public relations committee member.
“A lot of people in various positions ask my advice on a multitude of issues because they either expect me to know the answers or to know where to find the answers quickly,” Melton said. “I have always had a desire to know as much as I can know, and I have placed myself in positions to gain as much varied experience that I can.”
Regardless of what hat Melton has worn over the course of a more than 20-year career, the hat he consistently and most proudly wears is that of a rural schoolteacher.
In these underserved communities, he faces unique challenges, but they are ones Melton will happily tackle if it results in a significant change in a student’s life.
“Teachers are among the most educated individuals in a rural community and they are expected to behave in a manner that befits that level of learning. They are also responsible for being a positive role model for very impressionable children,” Melton said. “Whether that is fair or not is insignificant, it is just the way it is. It is also the way I believe it should be. There should be an expectation that those that are responsible for the nurturing and development of our future leaders should be held to a higher standard.”
Like Melton, MSU continues to demonstrate its dedication to helping rural schools succeed. The Ernst & Sara Lane Volgenau College of Education is partnering with the National Rural Education Association to create a new Appalachian Hub. As part of the Rural Schools Collaborative (RSC) mission, this hub will assist rural schools and teachers from a four-state Appalachian region (Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina). These RSC hubs, established in various states and territories across the U.S., help RSC and partners exchange stories and information, collaborate on projects and seek funding opportunities to support rural schools. Melton recently appeared on the RSC’s “I Am A Rural School Teacher Podcast” to discuss his experience as a rural teacher.
When it comes to helping improve education in a rural community, Melton feels he gets the greatest fulfillment out of the unique bond he forms with students and their families. Many of the students he teaches today may have a parent or family member he taught in the past. While there are a lot of positions Melton could have taken or places he could have gone with his education from MSU, there is no place he would rather be.
“The role of rural teachers and the close relationships they build with students from challenged backgrounds and upbringings is at the very center the most lasting positive impact of being a rural teacher. I have so many former students that I consider family. They come to my house, they call me for advice, they bring and share their children with me and my wife. We have been blessed beyond measure with such a wonderful extended family because I was called to be a teacher,” he said. “Teaching cannot be a job; it has to be a calling, especially in a rural community.”
Morehead State University’s Ernst & Sara Lane Volgenau College of Education offers a reduced tuition rate to all Kentucky schoolteachers and other educators enrolled in graduate courses within our College of Education. For more details on the reduced tuition offer, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/kyeducators.
For more information about MSU’s Volgenau College of Education and its programs, call 606-783-2162 or visit www.moreheadstate.edu/education.