One of the student comments that led to Dr. Rodney Ashlock’s selection as ACU’s 2018 Teacher of the Year must have been especially pleasing.
When the award was presented in May, several of the comments were read, but one may stick with Ashlock forever.
“He is supportive of all students, recognizes their success publicly, remembers their names, prays for and genuinely cares about them.”
Ashlock may have stopped listening when he heard the words “remembers their names.” That’s one of the tenets of teaching that Ashlock learned years ago when he was a graduate assistant for Dr. John Willis, who retired from ACU in 2017.
Willis not only knew every student’s name, he greeted each one at the door with a cookie. Ashlock doesn’t bring the cookies, but he does bring everything else he learned from Willis and other mentors. That was evident from some of the other student comments that were part of the citation read when Ashlock got his award.
“He is not only an incredible professor, but a great friend to his students,” one student wrote. “His guidance and spiritual advice are priceless. I was continually blessed by the thoughtful nature of his teaching and relationships.”
Ashlock, who is an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry at ACU, will give the December graduates one last bit of his wisdom and guidance as commencement speaker for the Dec. 14 ceremony. His theme will be “turning toward when it’s easy to turn away.” And, the format won’t come as a surprise to all the December graduates who have sat in Ashlock’s classes.
“Much of it will be a story,” he said.
Storytelling is a big part of Ashlock’s teaching method and it is what drew him to the Old Testament when he was growing up. He loved the stories so much, in fact that he wrote his dissertation for a doctorate from Baylor University on “The Lord Commands,” based on stories from Genesis through Deuteronomy.
Ashlock, who was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, loved reading all kinds of literature as a child, but was especially drawn to the Old Testament.
“The Old Testament stories just captivated me,” he said. ”It’s a place where you can imagine.”
That imagination caught fire when Ashlock was a freshman at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. It was an Old Testament class similar to what he teaches now. He helped other students study for the class and someone mentioned that he would be a good teacher. That was one of several “spirit nudges” that pushed him toward where he is now.
Along the way, Ashlock picked up some pointers from others on how to be an effective teacher–including learning each student’s name. Having a passion for the job is a must. Students should be able to feel the energy and the love that the professor has for the subject matter and for teaching.
“If there’s not an interest in being in the room,” he said, “it’s going to be miserable for everyone.”
Another maxim for teachers to live by is to “keep on reading,” Ashlock said. A teacher should never stop learning.
Part of that learning comes from the students he teaches. They have grown up in an era and culture totally different from his. Technology is second nature to them. They are social media savvy.
“It’s here and it’s not going away,” Ashlock said, so faculty must adjust.
Ashlock learns from his students by listening as attentively to them as they do when he’s teaching. He holds discussion groups where students talk about their lives, the music they listen to, the movies they see, the social media they read.
Ashlock believes a university professor should be a good role model and sounding board for students. Many are away from home for the first time and may be thinking for themselves for the first time.
They may learn something in class that is different from what they learned at home or at church.
When that happens, Ashlock said, it is important to safeguard the student’s faith.
“If you disorient a student,” he said, “it’s our job to re-orient.”
Judging from the student comments that were read when Ashlock was named Teacher of the Year for 2018, he learned well from his mentors and now is successfully passing on that knowledge. One student noted that Ashlock’s classes are tough, which only inspires hard work.
“I respect him so much as a teacher and person,” the student wrote, “that I have never tried harder in a class than his.”