At the Faculty Retreat in early March, an alumnus and English Chairperson (who also teaches French and Italian and directs the fall play) shared with colleagues two reasons why he hasn’t left the Friars.
By John Schoeph ’95
One of the things for which I’m most grateful is that I work in an environment that fosters scholarship. I can recall from Dr. Lordan’s class the importance of scholasticism as a facet of Thomism, as an important component to Dominicans’ approach to education. That approach continued when I attended a Dominican university. I feel blessed to work in, of all Catholic environments, a Dominican one that prizes scholarship.
We don’t try to keep up with teaching trends. We aim to be innovative within fields our teachers know well and continue to advance in. English teachers here don’t ‘kind of’ know English; they know it. Continued learning in our fields is important to us. So a personnel of scholars has tended to abound here, and I love being in that company and in a place that embraces that.
As department chair, how blessed am I to observe other teachers and get to witness the high level of preparation through conscientious and attentive research in varied aspects of English:
- Shana Wang’s research on the reportage of Isabel Allende and its effect on her fictionalization of the televised death of Omaira Sanchez.
- Theresa Steinmeyer’s [Class of 2012 alumna] research on revolutions throughout Central and South America as reflected through Magical Realism.
- Kyle Perry’s [Class of 2001 alumnus] research on Said’s Orientalism, its reactions, and observations of both in art and literature.
This is an environment I want to be in.
At Fenwick, I can teach up! At Fenwick, I have to be on my A-game; I wouldn’t want to be at a place where I can get away with winging it, where students wouldn’t be sharp enough or smart enough to call me out on a misspeak or a gap in knowledge. My primary goal here is not to motivate students because, by and large, they come to class excited and willing to learn.
I can recall a group of students who used to spend their lunch period in my class so that they could take notes on my lessons when I wasn’t their teacher that year; I can recall discussing a picture book on words that have no translation in other languages, or at least no direct translation to English, and three students stopping after class to ask me for the title and author of the book so that they could buy their own; one of my talking points at Open House is the time the football team called me over to their lunch table to weigh in on whether or not I thought Willie Loman was a tragic hero in Death of a Salesman because they were duking it out — at lunch!
I can recall when Mr. Finnell assigned me A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my directorial debut [in 2009] after eight years paying my dues as his assistant director. After working with the students on Shakespearean language, delivery and pacing, sitting through the first off-book rehearsal, which was all of Shakespeare’s ACT I — unabridged — I was smiling from ear to ear because no one called for a line — not even once. They had worked that hard on it.
Best students in the land
And let’s face it, whether they’re the brightest scholar or lover of academics or not, they’re the best students in the land. I have many friends who are teachers at many schools, and when I’m out with them, it’s inevitable that I will run into my students. Every time I do, my friends are flabbergasted by my students’ comportment and interaction with me. Every time, my students run over to me and greet me, excited to see me.
One time, I walked into Chipotle where about 12 Fenwick students, juniors at the time, had formed one long table. I had taught only one of them as a freshman and didn’t know the others. I got my food and was heading to the counter when they waved me over to join them. I didn’t want to intrude, but they all immediately made room for me, welcomed me, and brought me over to eat — again, I had taught only one of them.
Another time, I was with my friends at the Oak Brook Mall when a group of students ran up to me. My friends were blown away that my students didn’t see me and walk the other way. Instead, they respectfully greeted my friends, chatted with me, and then suddenly darted away —because across the mall, they spotted Mrs. Megall and wanted to go say hi to her! And I know the same goes for so many of you. We could take this for granted — the academic caliber of our gifted and talented students, and the welcoming and warmth of our kind-hearted students — but knowing what other teachers experience helps me realize this gift. And I haven’t even talked about how great our students’ families are!
The families of our students are exceptional — exceptionally generous, exceptionally kind and exceptionally supportive. With few exceptions, they send their children to Fenwick for an exceptional education, for faith formation and for self-discipline to be inculcated in and out of the classroom. I can’t tell you how many times parents have thanked me for keeping the bar high for their children, for not accepting a foul attitude from their son or daughter, and for developing a strong work ethic. In my interactions with students’ parents, I have found that they appreciate and trust what I’m doing with my classes as I strive to educate academically and spiritually, to develop mind and character, and they have been incredibly warm to me. On account of the values they share with us, plus other good reasons, our students’ parents are the best — just look at the Mothers’ Club and Fathers’ Club efforts, from the fundraisers to the treats.
At Fenwick, I can give …
Now I opened the talk by saying there are two reasons I tend to stay. The first is what Fenwick has given me over the years, from the environment of scholarship to a community of caring scholars, from awesome students to a place we can practice Catholicism. The second reason I stay, however, is that here, I can give. I can give to Fenwick in ways that I know are worthwhile for the community, especially to my students.
First and foremost, I am able to give of my knowledge in English, French and Italian at a rigor that reflects who I am. Where else can I coach grammar?! And win State!! Yes, it brings me joy to teach — it’s my calling, after all — but I know I’m providing, through bolstering language skills in my students, the ability to analyze and communicate effectively, the ability to communicate with thousands and thousands more people than they would otherwise have been able to if they hadn’t been taught here at Fenwick. I can give those students that in tried-and-true ways that aren’t frowned on here.
I can give of my directorial and acting know-how and share my love of musical composition here. In this way, I bring joy, discipline and a sense of accomplishment to so many students through BFG [the Blackfriars Guild], and I can move audiences through my vision as director and enlighten audiences through my attention to play choice and delivery. Where else can I write a goofy one-act and see it realized by students who get behind it from the first read-through? Where else can I write a score for a production? Fenwick allows me to give of my talents in this way.
And finally, I am able to give of my faith. Many people, including my students, have asked me, “Why do you work at a Catholic school?” I joke, “Because I couldn’t pray the rosary with my students at a public one.” Yet it’s true. Here I can share my faith through praying the rosary with my students, by administering what I call Lenten quizzes, by sharing my experience as a Catholic in a sometimes crazy world through certain class talks and through my Kairos talks. I don’t need to be at Fenwick to pray — to pray for my students, for their families and for my coworkers — but here I can share that I pray, and here I can pray with those in the community for some of these same things.
I leave you with this: Consider seeing Fenwick not only for what it has given you but as a place and as an opportunity to give in ways that you couldn’t at other schools or in other places. In realizing what makes Fenwick distinctive in terms of what you can give here and not elsewhere, you might also come to some important conclusions about why you stay.