Thursday, September 24, 2009

Adjunct Professor of the Year

Professor Slapak takes teaching to new levels

“Watch your thoughts: they become your words. Watch your words: they become actions. Watch your habits: they become character. Watch your character: it becomes your destiny,” (author unknown). Those are the first words students encounter in Professor Judith Slapak’s classroom.

Slapak teaches Education courses and is also the Teacher Education Specialist for Title V at South Campus. Slapak started her education at Broward when it was still a community college, perhaps sitting in the very same seats as her students today. Slapak, who has been teaching for 18 years, was awarded this year’s South Campus Adjunct Professor of the Year Award.

At age four, Slapak would sit her mom, grandma, grandma’s nurse and all her stuffed animals down and teach them lessons, just as she does with her students today. Slapak’s mom used to say that it didn’t matter if they wanted to hear the lesson or not: apparently, they had no choice.
Slapak proudly boasts that she has taught students from “almost every country in the world,” as well as every age group possible. Slapak says she understands students and she continuously reminds herself that she is one by constantly learning something new. Her greatest teacher she says, was her mom.

Slapak says her inspiration to practice what she preaches is from Confucius, “I hear and I forget. I see and I believe. I do and I understand.”

One lesson that proves her creativity and passion to teach is one she taught to ESOL students at Miami Dade College and English Language Learner students (ELLs). Slapak was born in another country and later came to the United States, so she knew how students may have felt. She wanted to find a way to make learning relevant and in one class she asked each student to bring in a fruit.

Curious as to why they were bringing food to class, they did as they were told. The next class, Slapak came in with a big bowl and some knives. The class used fruit to learn “hands-on” their colors, shapes and how to answer “yes or no” questions. Once the lesson was learned, they turned their assignments into fruit salad and enjoyed the taste of their success.

Slapak wants students of all varieties to “never lose hope.” Many people may have had a rough start or “interruption” from their education, but like Slapak says, “Once you return, the past is the past, you can look forward to a bright future if you strive to do your best.”

Crystal Gonzalez took Slapak’s class and she can see how she was awarded Adjunct of the Year: “She has such a great attitude about teaching. You can tell that she loves her job. She beams with excitement, which makes her students more into what she’s teaching and excited to learn. She is a great teacher and anyone would be lucky to have the chance to be taught by her,” Gonzalez said.

According to Slapak, one of the greatest rewards is to have a past student see her in the halls and want to greet her.

Her constant commitment to teaching and making it relevant has not gone unnoticed. Slapak has been awarded a Classroom Research Award from the BC Will and Jo Holcombe Institute for Teaching and Learning Excellence and a certificate for “Outstanding Teaching” from MDC.

Adjunct Professor of the Year is a welcomed addition to her collection of awards. With a sense of humor, Slapak jokes that one of the perks she is most looking forward to with this honor is her very own parking space, a space of her choice that she can keep for the upcoming school year.

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