Faculty Highlight: Mrs. Slaff

By Ryan Jackloski ’16

What are five facts about you?
I love to entertain.  I wasn’t supposed to live past the age of two because I had a severe heart condition and had open-heart surgery when I was eighteen.  I’m a great sports spectator but I was never allowed to play.  I’m Southern and have deep Southern roots.  My guilty pleasure is country music when I’m cooking or working.  My mother was a church organist but also a recording artist and arranger for the pipe organ so I appreciate classical and religious music as well, but you can clean a house pretty well to a country song.  I love helping students.  It keeps me young, but I get so much back from trying to help students figure out things or relieve stress.  I love my job.  I really enjoy being a grandmother; I have four grandchildren: twenty, seven, four, and four.
How long have you worked at Sem?
Thirty years.
What positions have you held while here?
I’ve been a French teacher, Spanish teacher, English teacher, and ESL teacher.  I ran the ESL Summer program for eighteen years.  I served as chair of global language department.  I’ve worked in college guidance for over twenty years and directed it for four.  I’m also a mentor of new faculty, and I sit on a bunch of committees.
What is your favorite class you’ve taught?
As far as content, I’ve always loved French Honors.  I’ve always held onto it because you’re introducing literature and history through the target language.  When College Board stopped AP French Literature, I had a few years when I got to develop a capstone course after AP French Language, and we did sub-Saharan and Caribbean literature of negritude, which is black literature.  It was literature that I had never studied, so I was learning it with this small group of students, and that was really cool.
This year you oversaw the submission of over 1,100 college applications and just the other day you had nine appointments to attend.  How do you stay so calm and organized?
That’s a lesson I have learned through being a grandmother.  And I don’t know that I stay calm, but I am able to be present.  When I’m in a meeting, I’m just in that meeting, or when I’m talking to a student, I try to really just focus and listen to the student.  I have learned that when you’re with three and four year olds, you have to be in the moment, so I try to remember that lesson and I give my full attention to whatever I’m doing, and then I move onto the next thing.  I plan my day.  I keep a list of what needs to be done, but then I try to focus on just one task at a time.  I do think that sometimes we spend too much time worrying about what has happened that we can’t change and what we still have to get done.  I just start plugging away.  You have to know when to draw the line and just say, “That’s the best I can do right now,” and you move onto something else.  It’s okay to fall short, to accept yourself as not perfect.
What college did you go to?
I went to Tulane University in New Orleans.  I went as an informational engineer and math major when computers were a whole big room, and I fell in love with French literature because Tulane required language.  I changed my major, graduated, and went on to do graduate work in medieval French.
What would you like to say to the overly eager freshman or sophomore with plans on applying to every Ivy, MIT, and Stanford?
The difference between having a dream and a goal is a plan.  Having a plan is important as long as you understand that plans change.  I think we get so wrapped up in where we go to school that we really don’t focus on how we go to school.  There are so many ways to get a great education and get launched into a career that will make you feel fulfilled and happy.  There are so many jobs that a seventeen year old doesn’t even know exist that could be marvelous careers.  I really hope that high school kids keep an open mind of what’s out there.  You can make so many college experiences great.  I would rather students focus on the how and the why than on the where.
A lot of colleges have recently become test optional.  Do you think with time the SAT and ACT will become totally obsolete?
No.  Test optional is really a luxury of small to midsize schools.  Really large institutions oftentimes use computers to at least go through the first round of selecting their classes. They need something to compare apples to apples because the grading scales and curricula at different schools are so varied.  I don’t think standardized tests are going to go away unless we go to some type of national exam for graduation like the Baccalaureate in France.  I think test optional and test flexible admission programs are important because we can’t quantify a student.  They’ve proven that students who do not report their scores to test optional schools perform just as well during college as the students who chose to report their scores.  There’s a lot of data that says those tests do not necessarily provide any sort of measure of success.  I don’t think they’re going to go away because some kids are good at tests so they want to report their scores.  Admission officers just want to know what your skills are entering college.  I hope there will be options for students.
A lot of people know you as Snapple Cap because you know a ton of random facts.  Can you give us one?
“Are you worth your salt” is an expression we use.  Some say Roman soldiers were often paid in salt (which is sal in Latin), so your salary is your allotment of salt.  So if you’re worth your salt, you’re worth your salary.