Her office is dim. The only source of light comes from a reading lamp perched on her desk. It splashes light on a thick stack of papers she is leaning over and occasionally scratching notes on with a red pen. She is Anne Slonaker, an assistant professor of education at Castleton State College. This is her third year at Castleton. She left her position at Penn State to work on the education department’s new Inquiry program.
I have arrived early to our pre-arranged meeting and she doesn’t seem to mind. When I knocked, her head popped up, she smiled and pushed the papers aside. I had her complete attention.
I asked few questions. A little prompting was enough to instigate a whole chronicle of stories.
What kind of car do you drive?
She snickers and begins listing her Volkswagens and the corresponding names she and her husband assigned them. There was the 61 bug, Maxwell Smart. A square back; Waltzing Matilda.
Maggie the Magnificent. Lemon Bug. Tilley Too.
They all have stories about how they died.
But that was years ago. These days she’s driving a Subaru. She is a Vermonter now after all.
What is your favorite TV show?
She and her husband didn’t have a TV for a long time. She did like to watch ’30 something.’ She just recently got a 13-inch TV set and for the first time, they have cable. She watches baseball. She’s a Phillies fan. She likes the HBO series ‘The Wire.’
Her favorite song?
‘Divided Sky’ by Phish. They do a lot of improv at concerts and she loved to hear it live. She went to the first Phish Festival in Plattsburg and she was 10 years older than the average attendee. A local paper ran a fuzzy picture of the festival; she can barely be seen at the edge.
Her door is open, which reflects the teaching philosophy at Castleton.
“It’s an open-door policy. I like that policy,” Slonaker said. “I’m supposed to be accessible. But I feel I’m not accessible enough.”
Dianna Greene, a multidisciplinary education major at Castleton disagrees.
“She’s always approachable,” Greene said. “Like I saw her today, I was venting about another class I’m having issues with. She listened and she said to come in and vent anytime. It helps.”
Slonaker waives to almost everyone who passes her office. One student brings in her 7-month-old beagle puppy.
The interview halts. Slonaker has to say hello.
She’s a dog person.
Currently she has four dogs at home. Two of her own, an Australian Sheppard named Rebound and a mix named Francis. One she’s watching for a friend. The fourth belonged to her mother, who recently passed away.
She shows me a picture of her mother sitting in a hospital bed with her Collie. It is the background on her laptop.
A Search for Independence ends with a Soul Mate
Slonaker’s parents were strict. Her father taught at an all-boys private school in Philadelphia. Her two brothers attended the private school; Slonaker went to a public school. She spent her summers at an all-boys camp where her father was a director.
She was a public school kid in a private school world.
She was not allowed to wear jeans.
Growing up, Slonaker was struggling for independence and opportunities to express herself. One of her two brothers didn’t like how she was treated differently because she was a girl and when he rebelled, he took her with him.
“I rebelled against structure and formality. I am an active and talkative person. Being shhhh-ed my whole academic career. ahh!…” Slonaker said as she threw her arms and legs into the air to punctuate her point. “I had stuff to say!”
It was the seventies, she skipped class to drive around or listen to music in Fort Washington Park. She didn’t lie, exactly, but she didn’t tell the whole truth.
She got through high school even though she would rather have been anywhere but there and started college at Elizabethtown University in Pennsylvania.
After two years she dropped out with a cumulative GPA of 1.75.
“She rebelled because she was looking for something better,” said her husband Brad Slonaker, a mathematics professor at Kutztown University. “I think it was me.”
“Brad was the one who turned me around to being truthful,” Slonaker said.
She knew her days of lying to her parents were over when Brad asked her to move in with him.
“I was leaving Elizabethtown and he asked me to move in with him. I said ok, but we can’t tell my parents,” Slonaker recalls. “He said, ‘your days of doing that are over.”
He hitchhiked to her parent’s house in the Fort Washington, Penn. where they told her parents their plans.
Her mother asked if she loved him.
“I said, ‘Yes, with all my heart!'” Slonaker said as she clutches her chest with her hands.
Her mother asked him he loved her.
“He said, ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to find out,'” Slonaker recalls.
The next morning, her mother had one more question. Could Brad get Anne to her job? When he said he could, her mother gave them her permission.
“I have never felt so shocked since or so free. It was such freeing act,” Slonaker said. “When we left the house, it was like, wow.”
“They must have known we’d be ok,” Brad —Slonaker recalls. “What they saw, it wasn’t on the surface. It was something deeper. We’re soul mates.”
She is who she is
Tim Cleary, department chair and assistant professor of education, sits in silence thinking of an answer to the question.
How would you describe Anne to someone who has never met her?
“Look for the woman with the big smile,” he says slowly as a grin spreads across his face. “And then be careful you don’t get caught up in Phish stories. But if you do just sit back and enjoy them.”
Slonaker has a story for everything.
“She has a story-driven teaching style,” said Rick Reardon, a visiting professor of Education. “She can call on her teen and developing years, her husband, Phish and bring that into the classroom.”
Her past definitely affects her teaching.
“The way she was brought up sure has structured her context and who she is today,” Cleary said.
Cleary, Reardon and Slonaker make up the Inquiry teaching team. Together they teach the improved Intro to Education class at Castleton State College. They came together in 2007 to adapt and modify the program.
Their offices line the back wall of the Stafford Academic Center. First Reardon’s than Cleary’s, then the copy room, and finally Slonaker’s at the end of the hallway.
“If you spent three hours with her on first day, that’s the same thing you’ll see the next time and the next time,” Reardon said as Slonaker passes his office.
“Speak of the devil, with a big fat smile on her face,” Reardon says jokingly. “That’s always there.”
I walk down the hall to talk with Slonaker.
I was just talking about you, I tell her.
She is still smiling and her cheeks are red. She laughs, deposits three bags she’s been carrying into a heap by her door, and turns on her heels. She stomps back down the hallway her arms swing and halts in front of Reardon’s office.
“What did you tell her about me?” Slonaker demands.
“You’ll have to read about it in the paper!” Reardon said.
She laughs and walks back to her door where she’s left me.
“I’ve got to wash my hands, I just did the garbage.”
That’s Anne Slonaker.
“She’s accessible as a college professor and as a human being,” Cleary said. “She puts her own person out there in front of students; she’s real. What you see is what you get. She is who she is.