Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor

English Teacher Rick O’Connor brings his broadcasting expertise to Fenwick’s students.

What is your educational background?

RO: I have a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and a M.A.T. from National-Louis University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

RO: I was the Executive Producer for “The Steve Cochran Show” on WGN Radio for eight years. Prior to that, I held positions at Fidelity Investments and Putnam Investments in Boston.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

RO: When [Basketball] Coach [Staunton] Peck and I are not discussing the Red Sox and White Sox and other world affairs, we recommend books to each other. The current recommendation is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I just started it, and so far, so good!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

RO: I enjoy anything outdoors, such as running, camping and mountain hiking. Last summer I hiked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my son, and it was a lot of fun sharing my passion with him. He seemed to like it and certainly had more stamina than I did!

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

RO: As a student at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, RI, I was a member of the school newspaper. I was fascinated with journalism and the media from a young age, and I still have that passion. I also ran cross country and threw the javelin, although my newspaper skills were significantly better than my javelin-throwing ability.

Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?

RO: I am the moderator of the Broadcasting Club. When I was hired in 2011, the club consisted of three members. I am proud of how the students have really grown the club. We now make videos, live stream sporting events, and also make short, creative films. There really is something for everybody, and I am blessed to work with wonderfully talented young people. [Check out the Fenwick Boadcasting Club YouTube Channel.]

What qualities and characteristics mark a Fenwick student?

RO: I think being a student at Fenwick carries a great sense of responsibility. Being a Friar means you conduct yourself a certain way — you are a quality individual in all facets of your life. As a student, you work hard and have an appetite for knowledge; as a member of the community, you conduct yourself in a morally strong manner; and as a person of faith, you have a strong relationship with God. That is what being a Fenwick Friar entails.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

RO: When my radio career was at a crossroads, I remember thinking that I had previously given thought to becoming a teacher. I remember teachers in high school who had a profound effect in shaping whom I became as a person. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much of an influence they had on me. I knew that I could work with young people and connect with them based on experiences in my life in a way that would make the material more relevant in their lives.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

RO: I bring a [high] level of passion and enthusiasm to the classroom, and I hope it is contagious with my students. I think with the right mindset, even the most boring lesson can become interesting. It’s really about keeping an open mind and a willingness to try new things.

What do you like most about teaching as a career?

RO: Without a doubt, the students. As much as they learn in my class, I learn just as much about life, people, myself and the talents that God gives each of us every day. They inspire me to work hard and do everything I can to help them learn and grow.

What is your philosophy of education?

RO: I make all my classes and the Broadcasting Club “student-centered.” It is their education and their experience in high school. I am the least important person in the classroom. By empowering students to take more ownership over their learning, they become more engaged in the material we are covering.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

RO: I am so happy and humbled whenever my former students email me or stop by Fenwick to visit and share their success stories. When they tell me that something we did in class has helped them in college and beyond, that is the greatest compliment I can get. It fuels me to continue to motivate and push students to be the best they can be.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?

RO: It is a lot tougher being a student in high school today than it was for me in the late ’80s. Social media is like the “Wild West,” and while I think there is plenty of merit in using social media, there are many dangers, distractions and pitfalls that exist with these platforms. I also think the pressure to take difficult classes and get good grades has been intensified significantly in the years since I was that age. Our Fenwick kids are amazing in that they face these pressures and achieve great things! They really impress me all the time.

How do you encourage class participation?

RO: I encourage class participation by making sure they know that their opinions matters! Nobody is more important than anybody else, and our diverse opinions on issues make for a stronger conversation. I encourage students to disagree with me, if they feel that way, because having an intellectual debate in the discourse community challenges ideas and/or reinforces existing beliefs.

Have your classes really won seven Tug-of War championships?

RO: Yes [smiling].

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