This month’s The Focus is You features Bonnie Slavych, PhD, assistant professor of Communication Disorders at the University of Central Missouri. After Slavych’s first semester of teaching, she quickly realized that teaching wasn’t necessarily “taught” in her PhD program. With hard work and diligence, Slavych says her effort to be a better professor and mentor is one of her greatest accomplishments in her teaching career.
What accomplishment fills you with the most pride in your teaching career?
Slavych: In my first semester, I realized quickly that I did not know how to teach; this is something that isn’t really taught in a Ph.D. program—at least not in mine. It happened that at about the same time, the University of Central Missouri (UCM) partnered with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), a comprehensive course that addresses evidence-based approaches to increasing student engagement and learning. At this time, I also learned that UCM offered 20-Minute Mentors through Magna Publications. I took advantage of both of these programs.
By my second semester of teaching, I was so well organized that one of the students who had me in the first semester told me that she and several of her classmates were saying, “Dr. Slavych is on it.” So, in answer to the accomplishment that fills me with most pride in my teaching career — I would have to say that it was the overwhelming positive student response to the changes that I made following the work (and it was work) that I did in an effort to be a better professor and mentor to those who have entrusted me with their learning.
What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?
Slavych: The hardest thing for me about being a teacher is time management. I want to teach my students everything! They know that outside of class they can just come to my office to ask questions or to further explore a topic. Right now, I have four students that I’m guiding through their own original research projects while trying to complete my own. I work through evenings and the weekends (though, I have become better at taking a day for just my family and me). Now, I don’t want that to sound like a complaint—the truth is that I love it! But, I do realize that I am going to have to figure out how to better manage my time as a teacher if I am going to ensure the highest level of effectiveness.
How do you make learning fun?
Slavych: I have had students tell me that I should be a motivational speaker. My students tend to laugh throughout class because of the little comments and jokes that I make. I add a touch of humor when discussing topics, and I pull students in to this when I drop their names throughout class. Speaking of dropping names, I make it a point to know all of their names. I work on this before class even begins by memorizing my roster. Even the quieter students seem to enjoy the attention I give them.
What have you incorporated into your classroom that strengthens your teaching?
Slavych: In my clinical practice, I have made it a point to be an active listener. Patients will tell you their thoughts, but what is that they are really saying? I use this same technique in the classroom, and I believe that it strengthens my teaching.
I don’t expect my students to have the words that they need to fully ask their questions—if they did, they wouldn’t be taking my class. Now, to let you know, I was unable to consistently do this my first semester. At that time, I was still in survival mode. My thoughts were more, “Let me just get through this week.” Since that semester, though (and because of the work I put in to my teaching), I have been able to more consistently practice active listening and focus on taking those extra moments so that my students walk out of class with confidence that they can, in fact, do the things that I am telling them.
If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?
Slavych: I tell my students that they can feel the same satisfaction in their careers as I have felt with mine but that they must remain diligent because it is far too easy to become calloused when you see and hear the same things day after day. That callousness can create a wall between you and the patient, you and your mentee, or you and your student such that you are much less effective and definitely less satisfied. Remain diligent.