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Faculty Focus: January 2017

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Mary Beth Logas

What is your educational background? 
I graduated from public schools in Oak Park, including OPRF, then got my bachelor’s degree from U of I in Champaign in three years (which I did not think was all that great, but my parents did when they saved a year of tuition). Then I attended the University of Chicago in graduate school in political science for four years. I took college courses for fun at times before getting my certification and MA in Teaching from Dominican, and once figured out that I have about 200 hours of college credit.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment? 
I have been reading about World War II, believe it or not. I have read Ian W. Toll’s books about the war in the Pacific, and am looking for something like that to read (next). I have also been reading about China, which I wish I knew more about. I also read and write murder mysteries, but that’s like eating Fannie May's, so I don’t really count those.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom? 
As I stated above, I write fan lit type scripts for murder mystery series that I like. Currently I am obsessed with Miss Fisher (1920s Melbourne Australia) and have written several. I also sing and do community theater when I can.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student? 
I was on the debate team in high school, but my partner was glad when I quit and he got a more dedicated partner. What I loved and did a lot of was orchestra. I played the violin and went on concert tours to Europe twice, once to Russia.

Which Clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick? 
I am the head coach of the debate team. I was also the moderator of the short-lived Political Science Club, and have been on a field trip with the Photography Club.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student? 
I like teaching Fenwick students for a variety of reasons. Admittedly, by the time I get them they are juniors and seniors, and one of the great things about teaching here is the great job our English department does in teaching them to write. Fenwick Friars tend to be nice people, who are moved by an important story and usually do the right thing. The ability to express ideas and the desire to make the world a better place are real hallmarks of being a Friar, and gratitude for what they have and the people who care about them gives Fenwick students a special grace I find very appealing.

What do you teach and why did you choose this field? 
I teach history and social studies, and I am a writer of fiction and an amateur actress in my spare time. I find the ability to choose and tell the right story an invaluable quality in my line of work. Despite the fact that lecturing as an instructional method is somewhat out of fashion, the students tell me in evaluations that my lectures are interesting. Not everything can be as riveting as the Hamilton-Burr duel, but especially this year American politics gives me plenty of material.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching? 
If I could get one thing across to my students from my own experience, it is that no matter how bad things seem to be at this moment, they will change and this, too, will end. I have been through (some difficult times),  a bad divorce and economic hardship for instance and been able to get through them and make a better life, beginning by not giving up. There’s a saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” That really is the only way out. Focusing on what you can do for others, which is what I did with my kids, can be the most healing thing when you’re feeling bad about yourself.

What are some memorable moments in your teaching career? 
Some years back, I had a student that I was warned would be difficult.  Not that he wasn’t a nice kid, he just really struggled with school. My colleagues were right, he did. But he was lucky enough to be in a well-behaved class that liked US History (college prep level, of course), and the rising tide lifted all boats, even Johnny’s (which was not his name).  At the end of first semester, he was the last one finishing the final, and when I said I was sorry he was having trouble, he smiled and said, “Oh, no, that’s all right, Mrs. Logas. I feel like I’ve really learned a lot.” And he actually did do okay. During the third quarter that year, he got a B on a quiz, and as is my habit, I announced the names of the students who had gotten As or Bs on the quiz. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a smile in a classroom, and his colleagues couldn’t have been more encouraging.  The following year, of course, he asked me to write his college recommendation, but I found it easier than you might think. I was able to tell them that this young man did not give up, and he would do what he had to in order to finish. He was excited when he got into college, and when he graduated he gave me a note I still have somewhere, telling me that he had never believed he could “do school” until he had my class, and now he knew he could. I’d trade a fistful of 5s on the AP, as much as I rejoice in them, for more students like him.

Another favorite, more recently, argued with me and one of his friends in the class all the time. He was very liberal, and as the students know, I am more conservative. He argued with me, challenged what I said when he thought I was wrong, and got into very amusing disputes with a good buddy of his, a staunch conservative, who happened to be in the same class (actually, I’ve had this happen more than once). I pointed out to the other students, who agreed at the end of the year, that they were learning a lot from these two. When he graduated, my young liberal friend gave me a note in which he said that although we disagree about almost everything, he considered me his favorite teacher, and felt he had learned a lot from me, including a love for the political institutions of this country. He closed his letter by saying that one day when he is spreading his liberal agenda around the country I will have no one to blame but myself because I taught him everything he knows! I wish I could convey to him how much he taught me.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today? 
I disagree with the recent editorial in the Wick suggesting that the concern that we adults have with teens’ obsession with social media is misplaced. I think one of the least attractive things about the modern world is life online. It is meant, in some instances, to be addictive, and leads to shallow thinking and in my line, living in a political bubble where you only hear opinions that agree with yours. Too much time spent there, which is easy to do, takes away from living in real time, with the real people around you, and the anonymity encourages vicious behavior of which too many of our students have bitter experience. The internet may be a good slave to the intelligent, but it is a bitter master to the unwise. I am glad that here at Fenwick we still expect students to read books, write essays, listen and speak to rooms full of people, and above all, justify their opinions with evidence and facts. These skills are becoming all too rare, and they will confer amazing power on those who possess them in a world gone nuts online. 

Sometimes I feel terrible about the world our students will inherit from us. It is filled with selfishness and evil, violence and intolerance and suffering. They do not yet know how much courage they will need, but looking at what we are trying to do for them here at Fenwick, I believe they will find it when they must. I feel better about the state of the world than most people my age, I think, because I spend my days with these kids.  

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