Mathematics Department Chair and True Fenwick Treasure
Alumnus and Math Teacher Mr. Finnell is wrapping up his 55th year as an instructor at Fenwick. Having produced more than 100 Blackfriars Guild productions (and counting), he’s still going strong!
What is your educational background?
RF: I graduated from Fenwick in 1959. (The White Sox in World series!) B.S. (natural sciences) from Loyola University Chicago in ’63 (the year they won the NCAA basketball!); M.A. from Loyola Chicago.
What did you do prior to becoming a Fenwick teacher?
RF: I graduated from college and started at Fenwick three months later, in September of 1963. (Obviously, I was five at the time!)
What are you reading for enjoyment?
RF: The New Yorker magazine, for play and movie reviews and in-depth articles.
What interests do you pursue outside the classroom?
RF: Travel and seeing plays (some for possible BFG production) and seeing White Sox games (once saw a no-hitter vs. the Sox).
To what teams/clubs did you belong as a student?
RF: I played alto sax in the Fenwick Band (and still have it!).
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
RF: I coach the State Math Team. (I’m the only original head coach in Illinois still coaching since the state contest started in 1981.) I produce and direct BFG productions. “Banua 2018” was show #82 as a director (100 as a producer). I am Vice-President of the Archdiocese Math Teachers’ Association (board member since 1968). I also help when I can with the Kairos retreat program. I am a member of the State Math Contest Committee (head statistician since about 1985). For 33 years I ran a student tour to London. For many years I was student Council Moderator. (No, really, sometimes I do sleep!)
What qualities/characteristics mark a Fenwick student?
RF: Gifted, hard-working and (hopefully) caring and compassionate
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
RF: I always enjoyed math and (hopefully) was good at it. I decided in junior year of high school to be a math teacher, inspired by Fr. George Conway, a legendary Fenwick math teacher, who was my teacher here for three years. (And I did get to teach with him for about five years when I returned.)
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
RF: I am a good listener and a detail person. I think this helps me anticipate almost any question a student may ask. I guess maybe I can visualize the wheels turning in their minds.
What do you like most about teaching as a career?
RF: Every period of every class day is different and brings new experiences. I enjoy seeing students grow in their math knowledge and, hopefully, in developing constantly more mature attitudes towards study.
What is your philosophy of education?
RF: To treat my students as young adults, because that is what they are (and how they act most of, but not all of, the time). As I do this, hopefully I can help instill Christian values in them both in and out of the classroom. I strive to encourage students to think analytically and to develop sound reasoning techniques, and to help students see the beauty and logic in the mathematics and its place in the structure of God’s universe.
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
RF: Seeing that my students are well prepared in math when they leave for college and hearing from them about their success in college math and, for some, hearing how they are using their math in their careers.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?
RF: In this technical age of society today, I hope that students will not just rely on calculators and computers to do all of their thinking for them. And that they will not let social media dictate how they live their lives morally.
How do you encourage class participation?
RF: I hope my students know that they can stop class at any time with appropriate questions. To be sure the thinking I am looking for is going on, my goal is to hear every student’s voice in class every day. This does not happen all of the time. But I will ask students whose voices I have not heard whether they see what is happening in a problem and hope this will encourage questions from them in the future.
Any memorable moments?
RF: Where to begin?
- As student Council Moderator, many successful homecoming weeks and proms. (I have lost count!).
- Spending a large amount on bringing to Fenwick “Otis Day and The Nights,” the “Animal House” movie band, for a concert in the Lawless Gym that wound up drawing a crowd of 1,100.
- As London tour guide, watching students’ reactions as they were exposed to so many historical and cultural sites in London and surrounding areas and, for a number of years, in Paris.
- As Math Team Coach, winning the state championship in our division in 2002, with six or seven second-place finishes since, along with a good number of individual and team event state champs.
- As BFG producer/director, guiding so many very talented student performers to success in so many memorable productions. I follow the professional performing arts careers of some very gifted BFG alumni. (My favorite BFG show is “Les Miserables” from 2011 — it was the perfect show for a perfect cast.)
- As a math teacher, getting the privilege of helping to develop the math skills of so many extremely talented students. At least two now have Ph.D.’s in math. Mr. Kotty and Mrs. Esposito are two former State Math Team captains!
- As Kairos assistant, so many emotional moments as I see retreatants growing in knowledge and love.