Faculty Focus: May 2020

Even from home, 3rd-year Fenwick Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger loves Western Civilization — and working with freshmen!

What is your educational background?

BJ: I went to high school in the southwest suburbs — Oak Lawn Community High School (’09). I have my B.A. in History from the University of Notre Dame (’13). My M.Ed. is from Notre Dame as well (’15).

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

BJ: I was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Heredia, Costa Rica, for nearly a year before coming to Fenwick. Before that, I taught World Geography & Cultures to freshmen at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas as part, of Notre Dame’s ACE Teaching Fellows program (2013-15).

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BJ: It may not be for enjoyment, but it is almost impossible to avoid trying to stay current with the COVID-19 news. Aside from that, I am currently trying to finish The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BJ: I really love to cook. Fall weekends are for ND football and the Green Bay Packers. Wednesday nights are Trivia Night for me. In the summer, I like to travel and try to get outside, whether it be for hiking, fishing, brunch, baseball games or something else. I also help out as a young adult leader for a youth group at my parish throughout the year. 

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

BJ: A little bit of everything. I played golf and ran XC/distance track. I also participated in student council, class advisory boards, student helpers and a really unique group called Cross Countries — not to be confused with cross country. Cross Countries was a small group of eight students who fund-raised over $40,000 in three years to complete an international service trip to Bolivia to help build a hospital. I even did a group interpretation theater production my senior year. I was also really active in my youth group, Foundations, at Old St. Pat’s in West Loop.

Even eTeaching from his “home-classroom” can’t keep down Mr. Jerger!

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

BJ: I am the assistant debate coach and the assistant freshmen girls’ basketball coach. I also go on every Kairos [retreat] Mrs. Nowicki will let me!

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

BJ: In general, I think they push themselves and are gritty. Fenwick is not the ‘easy’ choice; students are challenged here. That said, the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Our students come out on the other end far ahead of their peers and ready to lead. And, in the end, they still wish they had “FOUR MORE YEARS!”

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

BJ: I decided sometime during high school. Even though I complained about it more than I should have, I really did enjoy my schooling experience — elementary through high school. I thrived on the structure, community and purpose it provided. I also really like to learn new things. 🙂

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

BJ: The ability to self-reflect and evaluate the effectiveness of a lesson is helpful. I think I do a good job of being objectively critical of what went well or not in a given lesson and of letting such reflection guide my future instruction. I also think I do a good job helping foster strong classroom communities. I try to communicate and model an idea I picked up from the youth group I help with — everybody is worth getting to know. 

What are your favorite classes to teach?

BJ: Western Civ all the way! It is the class I have taught the most since I have been at Fenwick. I also have a special spot in my heart for the freshmen. I know they come in having to earn their stripes, but I do think there is something special about being a small part of students’ introduction to Fenwick. With such a strong tradition of excellence and so many impressive people who call themselves Friars, I was even a little intimidated initially when I started as a faculty member. I can only imagine what that must be like for a teenager entering high school. I try to help make that transition as smooth as possible.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?​

BJ: I do not know if I can point to a particular aha-moment, but observing the general growth of the freshmen each year is really rewarding. On the first day of school, they come in wide-eyed and completely unsure of themselves. By the last day of school, many have found a second home and family. It is special.

What challenges face students today?​

BJ: I think the biggest challenge students face today is that they live in a culture obsessed with outcomes. That is not to say that our students should not set high goals, but I would argue that their day-to-day process and general approach is even more important. In my classes, I try to emphasize process over outcomes. No matter what field students go into, this is a lesson they can carry with them throughout their lives. I think it helps maintain perspective in a world that often lacks it.

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