Alumna Profile: Kathleen Slayton
Standing at just five feet tall, GSE’72, ‘77 alumna Kathleen Slayton’s infectious personality and zest for life towers larger than she, and has been seeping into her classroom for decades. While Slayton’s mother never graduated from high school, she instilled the importance of education into Slayton and her siblings. Upon completing her bachelor’s degree at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY. Slayton began serving students whom she felt truly needed a strong teacher and continued to do so throughout her career.
Slayton’s first teaching positions were in the inner cities of Buffalo and her hometown of Rochester, NY, bringing the racial inequality of the time to the forefront for her.
“I was working at a storefront and daycare center right in the heart of the riot area and there were national guardsmen there with their steel helmets and rifles with bayonets, marching up and down the street. And here were the little kids, sitting on the doorstep waiting to get in so they could have breakfast,” Slayton recalls. “This really drove home to me how important education and being a teacher and molding the lives of little ones really is.”
Marriage relocated Slayton to Princeton, NJ, a drastically different educational environment from the inner cities she was used to and one where she was not content. Slayton reflected that Princeton students learned in spite of teachers, and she felt called to serve a more diverse population.
“I was driven to try to keep school fun for the kids, making them successful,” Slayton said. “I took great pride in seeing their success.”
Slayton found a position in Piscataway teaching reading at first and, later, basic skills, which included both remedial reading and basic skills math.
“The kids that don’t succeed in reading or math are the ones that will likely drop out of school, hanging out on the streets, getting in to all kinds of trouble, making poor life choices.” noted Slayton. “If you look at the population in prison, 87% are illiterate.”
While teaching at Piscataway, Slayton embarked on graduate work at GSE to study not how students learned but how they didn’t learn. Years later, Slayton says that GSE’s teachers and their commitment still stand out to her.
“We got a lot of practical ideas about how to apply this information to the classroom,” reflected Slayton. “There was a great deal of support in getting your degree and an atmosphere that encouraged you to work up to your potential, and I liked that. I liked the challenge.”
After teaching in Piscataway for nearly thirty years, Slayton is now retired and living in San Diego, CA. She looks back affectionately on her former career and comments, “I had a lot of really fond memories. There was only one student I felt that I really hadn’t reached but who knows, you never know.”
Though you will not find Slayton teaching in a traditional classroom any more, you can find her on the U.S.S. Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum where she is one of just a few female docents. Slayton has also served on the board of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). As an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Slayton conducts Vessel Exams and edits their newsletter, The Compass Rose. She stays connected with Rutgers through the regional alumni club in San Diego.
“I believe in the old adage that to those to whom much has been given, much is required." remarked Slayton. “I believe in sharing my northeastern passion for life."