All about Ms. Messenger’s long term substitute and his unique teaching career


Tony Hemenway

Matthew Morton posing at his desk

Sentinel teacher Lori Messenger was admitted to the hospital after a car accident on January 15th, 2023. Students and teachers alike all are wishing Ms. Messenger a swift recovery and are keeping her in their thoughts. 

Matthew Morton, who moved to Missoula in August, is the long term substitute for Ms. Messenger’s creative writing and senior English classes as well as a permanent building substitute. He is currently working to become a certified high school teacher in Montana and has had a rich and diverse teaching and writing career. 

…Morton spent time
at a high school
in eastern Slovakia
 teaching English language
and American culture.

Mr. Morton first started teaching in 2012 working with undergraduate students at John Hopkins University and the University of Texas all while earning his graduate degree in creative writing and English also at John Hopkins. After graduating, he taught as an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas during the Covid 19 pandemic. He also had a small book of poems and a chap book published while in graduate school. 

Most interestingly, in the last year Morton spent time at a high school in eastern Slovakia teaching English language and American culture. He applied to visit Slovakia through a program called Fulbright that funds U.S. citizens to teach, study, or work abroad. “I didn’t know much about Slovakia when I applied…one reason I chose it because not that many people [had] applied…so it was less competitive” (Morton). 

Another motivation to pick the Central European country was the mountainous landscape. Morton had lived in Dallas Texas for six years prior and was ready for a more diverse scenery. 

The small town Morton and his wife were placed in was just 30 miles from the Ukrainian border. “We were…[far] from the fighting but… there when the war broke out…[and] that was really intense and interesting.”

Mr. Morton says that the idea of teaching in a foreign country, specifically one where you do not speak the native language was terrifying at first, and nothing can quite prepare you other than actually being there.  

What helped him was the relationships he built with students and fellow teachers in Slovakia. Students in Slovakia graduate at 18 years old and Morton found himself forming lasting connections with some senior students as well as older members of staff. “We were lucky enough to make really good friends with…people in the town, like teachers from my school, then ultimately some of my senior level students.” 

He also notes that there is a cultural disconnect to be seen between the older and younger generations in Slovakia. Many of the country’s older residents appear somewhat abrasive at first, they tend not to greet strangers on the street (which is commonplace in North America) and often take time before they warm up to strangers. 

On the other end of the spectrum Morton says the younger generation seems eager to impress with their knowledge of American culture. “[When] passing younger people on the street [as soon as] they knew we were from America they wanted to show they knew English.”

According to Mr. Morton, the difference in culture between American and Slovakian teenagers wasn’t too different. He said that his students in Europe watched the same shows and used the same social media as high school students often do here. 

The same sort of advancements in technology that create cultural similarities in countries across the world, also mean that Morton and his wife are able to keep in touch with close friends back in Slovakia. 

Although he was ready to return to America, Mr. Morton does miss teaching abroad and things like Zoom calls have helped him through that transition. 

Now that he is back in the United States, Morton has a goal to support his students in the same way a “regular” teacher might do. He wants to help kids explore what they are capable of in both Creative Writing and English classes. 

He has also made a collective effort to hold his classroom standards to those of Ms. Messenger while maintaining the loving environment she has created for students. 

“It’s a really challenging situation to come into as a new teacher…from everything I’ve heard Ms. Messenger is amazing and…those are big shoes to fill.”

Mr. Morton hopes to honor Messenger by making sure students know he cares about them. A daily updated journal on her condition can be found here; for those who wish to donate for medical and reconstruction costs, go here