There may be only one area in which Devon Hanahan ’87 and her students disagree.
“There is literally no way to rank professors,” she said after receiving yet another accolade from the MTVu website RateMyProfessor.com, where she has routinely ranked among the highest instructors in the country. Luckily for The College of Charleston, Hanahan’s students have been vocal about their enthusiasm for the Spanish instructor of 15 years and she has remained a faculty member to connect with them in new ways every semester.
As schools gear up for a busy fall semester, Hanahan offers advice for students and teachers beginning their careers.
1. Give it time. Whatever it is.
Adjusting to any big change, whether you’re moving into a dorm room or starting a new job, is a challenge. “I taught at a huge public school for seven years,” Hanahan said. “My first year I was 21 and I was clueless. The first year is really hard.”
2. Learn from your environment.
Hanahan recommends learning from your colleagues and your classmates. Chances are they’ve been there longer than you and they know the ropes. “I’ve learned over the years – I’ve had a lot of great colleagues at all the places I’ve taught,” She said. “We’ve always shared ideas and that makes a big difference.”
3. Be earnest.
Getting consistently high scores on Rate My Professor while holding students to high standards is no easy feat. Nor is connecting with new classmates or colleagues in an unfamiliar environment. Hanahan engages her classes by showing them she’s genuinely invested in each student. “They sense that,” she said. “I learn their names the first day of class. I try to talk to every single student in every single class. I try to have a sense of humor.”
4. Embrace the unexpected.
“Try things you didn’t expect to like,” Hanahan urged. A college friend talked the former math major into her first high-level Spanish class, and Hanahan fell in love with the language. “If you had told me my first day of freshman year I was going to major in Spanish I would have said ‘are you kidding me? There’s no way!’”
5. Focus on the big picture.
“I try to keep students from focusing on the test,” Hanahan explained. Whatever nitty-gritty task threatens to distract you from your objective, try to put it in perspective. It will help you stay engaged in fulfilling your long-term goals.
For Hanahan’s students, the big picture is much larger than their academic transcript. “Yeah, you need to get a good grade for your GPA, but the big goal here is learning a second language – being able to travel or live abroad using it.”
6. Be prepared.
Adulthood requires resourcefulness. “Remember you have to be a lot more independent,” Hanahan advised. For college students, this means owning your responsibilities, including the classes you miss. “It’s not like high school where you just say ‘what did I miss?’ You go to your syllabus, you ask your classmates. You come to your next class prepared.”
7. Never do the same thing twice.
“Every day I try to do something a little out of the ordinary just to keep it interesting.” After teaching for 25 years, Hanahan has taught more 100 and 200 level classes than she can count. Mixing it up and making every day about her students and their unique learning styles is what she loves most about her job. “I’m always hoping that I don’t do it exactly the same way, I’m always hoping to improve each time.”
8. Relax and Enjoy.
Of course, relax is a relative term. “That doesn’t mean relax your standards,” Hanahan clarified. “My children and my students will tell you I’m very strict, but if you love what you’re doing that communicates itself. My number one piece of advice is to relax and enjoy what you’re doing.”
Hanahan can be reached at email@example.com