Faculty Focus: September 2020

Italian Teacher Ms. Shawna Hennessey has begun her 14th year at Fenwick – and her first season as a frosh/soph girls’ tennis assistant coach!

What is your educational background?

SH: After graduating from Lyons Township High School, I received a Bachelor of Arts in Art and Design with a minor in Italian from DePaul University. I later returned to obtain my Master of Education in World Languages along with my certification and endorsements in teaching Italian and Visual Arts. 

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

SH: Before Fenwick, I taught English at L’Istituto di Istruzione Superiore Luca Pacioli, a secondary school in Crema, Italy. I worked in tandem with teachers of each subject matter to teach lessons on the content students were currently learning, but in English. In order to offer full English immersion to the students, I tried to pretend that I didn’t understand Italian, forcing them to converse only in English (my students at Fenwick might recognize this tactic …“Non ho capito!”). It worked for a bit, until I laughed out loud overhearing one of their jokes in the hallway and my cover was forever blown.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

SH: I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book Talking to Strangers, thanks to Fenwick math teacher, Ms. Dactilidis’s recommendation. I am also finishing up rereading Western Springs native, Joseph Scapellato’s The Made-Up Man because it is pure literary genius. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

SH: I am obsessed with anything that gets me moving outdoors, no matter the season: hiking, running, biking, tennis, gardening, canoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing. I live for traveling and meeting people from all over the world, but I value most spending time with friends and family right here at home. I especially love hanging with many of my colleagues from Fenwick who are some of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met. Oh and let’s add cooking and eating to the list, of course, which can be done in between (or even during) all of the above activities.

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

SH: Prior to high school I practically lived at the dance studio after school, practicing ballet, jazz and hip hop. I also played a little piano, violin, softball and tennis recreationally. Since both of my parents worked, once I got to high school, I spent most of my time outside of school either taking care of my three younger siblings or working at a job of my own.

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

SH: I am the moderator for the Italian Club and am also starting (and loving) my first year as Girls’ Frosh/Soph Assistant Tennis coach. 

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

SH: Only one? There are plenty of wonderful characteristics, but I’d have to say that Fenwick students are some of the most compassionate individuals I’ve ever encountered. Countless times I have witnessed Friars go out of their way to help someone else, without expecting anything in return. 

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

SH: I think I’ve always been destined for the teaching profession, despite trying to ignore that calling through high school and undergrad. As a child, I used to force my poor siblings to sit in front of an art easel while I taught them Algebra and French. (I know … not the most fun older sister, but they seem to have forgiven me since.) But then, once I got to high school, I thought, ‘Why would anyone want to do this for a living?’ Somehow I finally discovered my love of teaching when I taught English in Italy. I have always loved learning languages, and teaching not only allows me to build others’ linguistic confidence but also permits me to be a lifelong learner.

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

SH: Well, besides being hilarious, I like to think that I create a welcoming community in my classroom. I view my students as adults and strive to treat them as such, in hopes that they will in turn treat each other with respect. Learning a new language is frightening for many, but if you can have a sense of humor about your mistakes, then it will only make it more fun.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

SH: I feel incredibly fortunate that I often have students for three, even all four years in a row. My greatest successes are witnessing them step into the Italian classroom freshmen year knowing little more than the word spaghetti and reaching near fluency by the end of their senior year at Fenwick. 

What challenges face students today?

SH: Staying mentally well, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Too often, I’m reminded how high the stress, anxiety and depression levels are for students nowadays. The pressure of being a competitive candidate for universities, among many other things, is a huge weight on the shoulders of today’s students. It can be an immense challenge for them to pause and do some serious self-care, but it’s crucial. So take a moment to breathe, because if we’ve learned anything from the Italians this year andrà tutto bene (everything will be alright).

Did you know? In 2019, Fenwick’s “Italian Room” (Room 14) was renamed in honor of late alumnus/restaurateur Frank Capitanini ’50. READ MORE.

Click here to read about other Fenwick faculty members.

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