Faculty Focus: July 2020

Math Teacher Mrs. Toni Dactilidis, who recently completed her 12th year at Fenwick, is entering her 23rd year as an educator.

What is your educational background?

TD: I was educated in the City of Steel and Stone: Joliet, Illinois. From preschool at the Little Red Schoolhouse to my Master’s Degree at the University of St. Francis, I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a diverse city with valuable lessons surrounding me at every turn. I am reminded of a beautiful quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes that I saw every day in high school proudly displayed in the building, ‘the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.’  I love my hometown and, as I grow older, I search for ways to give back to show appreciation for all the education I received in that city. I relish all the lessons learned – from sports to dance, music to the Greek language – my education began at a very young age thanks to my mother, Mary Ann, and all the resources she found for me in Joliet.  

If you have never visited Joliet, please do! My high school alma mater, Joliet Central, is one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen – Forever the Steelmen! I tell my students that the reason I teach high school students is because I loved my high school experience so much. Thank you to all my teachers, both in the classroom and beyond, in Joliet throughout the years! 

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

TD: I will begin my 23rd year of teaching in August. Next month will definitely look different than other school year beginnings; but, I am excited to connect with a new group of Friars. I started teaching young people right out of college. I have taught students from the grade school level up to the college level for the past 22 years at Gompers Junior High School to Joliet Junior College. I completed my student teaching at Joliet Catholic Academy, where I truly witnessed the power of a Catholic high school education for young people. Prior to Fenwick, I taught at Rich Central High School [Olympia Fields, IL], where I really fell in love with teaching high school students. As a novice teacher, I was surrounded by amazing mentors who supported and guided me. My students there were wonderful, strong, smart young people that worked hard toward all their goals. I loved my time at Rich Central. But my experience at JCA inspired me to teach at a Catholic institution one day; luckily, I found Fenwick in 2008 in search of an AP Statistics teacher and a crew moderator for theater productions, all of which, I had experience with at Rich Central. Needless to say, the stars aligned for me perfectly. 

As I reflect back on my 22 years in education, I think about all the wonderful mentors from whom I have learned. Anna White, the Gompers principal, comes to mind. She taught me so many great lessons on being an effective educator. She created a school climate where students felt loved and had a safe environment to learn. Ms. White showed me daily that loving your students must still involve having good structure and discipline – a priceless lesson indeed! I thoroughly believe love is the foundation of every classroom where learning and supporting each other will then fill the room. From the very beginning of the year, I show my students that I love and care for them as people with hopes, desires, dreams and ambitions. I start the year with a project no matter what the class is and incorporate our mathematical concepts into the project. My students feel loved and appreciated right from the onset because I create a supportive environment where we all feel comfortable to learn together. The ‘T-Shirt’ project is one of my favorites – come by my room during the year; I love to hang the “T-Shirts” up so we are reminded each day of the strong community we have together.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?  

TD: Shout out to my book club – we just finished reading and then discussing Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips: a beautifully written book with themes and experiences that speak to all of us in America even though the book’s setting is the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. I have wonderful colleagues at Fenwick that are dear friends and we share a passion for reading and continuing to learn and grow in all we do. We love to gather as well: community! 

I am currently reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning; I enjoy reading about history, and this book is challenging me to think so very differently from the historical stories I usually read. Next on my list is Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell; this has been on my reading list since Dr. Tracy Gau recommended it to me in January. Gladwell’s books have always been favorites of mine. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

Ms. Dactilidis likes to travel the world, too.

TD: I have so many interests and now [summer] is the time when I can really enjoy so many of them. I love being outside all year round but the summertime allows me to do that more than ever. In the summer, one will usually find me around the yard playing in the dirt. I have a big garden filled with delicious vegetables – lettuce, spinach, onions, beets, herbs, peas and beans are some of the veggies that I have enjoyed up to this point in the summer. My zucchini are close to harvest and then cucumbers will be coming in. I cannot wait for the peppers and tomatoes to start exploding as well! My husband and I start everything from seed and it is truly a labor of love to tend to a thriving garden. Each year, I become more enamored with my perennial flowers – I love the ability to transplant them and separate them to expand my garden or share with family and friends. I relish the quiet time in my veggie or flower garden in the morning as the warmth of the summer sun rises over me. It is precious quiet time that is so appreciated after a long school year. It is a time to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit. 

Besides my yard, another favorite location of mine is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. I enjoy hiking, biking and cross country skiing through the preserve, which is a short walk from my backyard – nature at your doorstep! 

My family jokes that I sponsor ‘Camp Toni’ at my house as well during the summer. I teach my youngest family members how to swim, explore nature and be active just as kids are meant to be! These are some of my favorite summertime endeavors. Time is the most meaningful thing we can give one another. I love that I am able to spend so much time with them during the summer. 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: July 2020”

Representing the Shield through Good Sportsmanship and Building Relationships

‘Coaching soccer at Fenwick is integral to my ministry as a Dominican Friar’ — especially in the heat of battle! 

By Father Dennis Woerter, O.P. ’86

Brazilian fútbol super-nova, Pelé, performing his now-famous “bicycle kick” in 1968.

Pelé, whom I consider to be the greatest soccer player of all time, said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, studying, sacrifice and most of all love of what you are doing or learning to do.”  Certainly, he had much success, helping Brazil win three World Cups and currently holding the fifth spot in the list of top World Cup goal scorers, with 12.  At Fenwick, we want our students to be successful, and we never shy away from the fact that success requires hard work, perseverance, studying, sacrifice and love.  Pelé’s words apply to us all!

I have coached both boys’ and girls’ soccer at Fenwick for six years, beginning with the fall season in 2012.  Soccer strategy is the same for both: Coaches adapt formations to the personnel and make adjustments throughout the season.  The skills are the same for all who play soccer, but there is a lot more to the game than winning and losing.

Coach Woerter on the sideline (in white) this past fall.

I tell my players before the first game to “remember the shield.”  When on the field, they represent Fenwick; and referees, opponents, opposing coaches and spectators notice the ways in which a team respects all aspects of the game.  It is telling that the Fenwick boys’ soccer program has won the Chicago Catholic League Sportsmanship award a few times!  This award is given to the entire program.

It is important, though, to reflect on how coaching soccer at Fenwick is integral to my ministry as a Dominican Friar.  I played soccer at Fenwick and Loras College.  Fenwick had started soccer in 1981, so my freshman year of 1982 was the second year of varsity soccer. Both our boys’ and girls’ programs are now consistent winners.  My first year at Loras (1986) was their first year as an NCAA program.  They are now a Division III powerhouse!

Pele’s words resonate for us as coaches.  We work our players hard.  We encourage them to keep going when they may want to give up.  We have classroom sessions where we design plays and explain strategy.  When faced with obstacles, coaches figure out new ways of integrating team personnel.  The demands of a season result in coaches and players spending a lot time away from home.  Most important of all, though, we share the love of the sport with those we are charged to coach.  This love is not only for the sport, but for the players we coach.

Fr. Dennis was the tallest Friar (center) on the 1985 Fenwick soccer team.

The foundation of ministry is forming relationships.  Coaching is a lot like ministry.  In order to be a successful coach, relationships must be formed with players.  In order to influence players, they must see the coach as someone who is competent and compassionate!  The coach also must have the player’s best interest in mind.

This can be exemplified by an experience I had during a game last spring.  We were winning a particular game, but one of the referees was one we had trouble with before.  During the course of the game, he showed some amazing disrespect to me by some things he said.  I reacted by saying some things only the girls on the bench could hear.  One of them, a captain, led me aside and said, “FD (my nickname), don’t lower yourself to his level. We all know you are right.”

Notice, she didn’t say, “I know you are right.”  She said, “We know.”

About the Author

A Class of 1986 alumnus, Fr. Woerter teaches Theology at Fenwick and is the Director of Campus Ministry. Father Dennis (FD) also coaches as an assistant on the sophomore boys’ and junior-varsity girls’ soccer teams. He received a B.A. in speech communication (journalism) from Loras College, a Master of Divinity from the Aquinas Institute of Theology, a M.A. in Theology (Catholic Social Teaching) from the Aquinas Institute and a Doctor of Ministry degree (Preaching in the Practice of Ministry) from the Iliff School of Theology.