What is your educational background?
JS: I am an alumnus of Fenwick with an undergraduate degree from Dominican University in English and education and a postgraduate degree from DePaul in English (literature).
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
JS: I enjoy music and writing quite a bit. From listening to almost all genres of music, including techno, indie, and opera, to playing piano, I find such enjoyment in music. And I like writing poems, stories, and plays for fun these days. Crafting a poem or a story helps keep my eye critical when it comes to literary analysis in class. Above all else, though, I love to pray and laugh.
What did you do to prepare for becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
JS: Both prior to and during my first few years, I studied and researched. I researched extensively to ensure a strong command of the subjects, skills, and topics I was teaching in both English and French. I did the same with theater. I can picture myself taking notes from stacks of books and organizing lectures and designing lessons. I know Fenwick students. I need to know the material well and present it well. Back then, I relied on only certain persons for advice and ideas, and, with their blessing, ran with their ideas in my own way. I never borrowed a lesson plan. With the exception of keeping some Fenwick traditions alive and making sure Mr. DePaldo’s vocabulary notebook lived on, I never asked for someone’s quiz, test, vocabulary list, or assignment to use. At the most, I relied on others’ good lessons as springboards to design my own.
Among the “certain people” I relied on for sound advice in preparing were my parents and grandparents, Mr. DePaldo, Frau Barr, Madame Schnabel, Mr. Arellano, Dr. Lordan, Mrs. Marcotte and the Dominican University Sisters. Mr. Finnell was incredibly helpful in preparing me for directing.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
JS: The hats I currently wear outside teaching include serving as director of the fall plays and as the English coach for WYSE. I truly enjoy both because I see our students’ excellence at pursuits and passions outside the classroom. Our fall plays are not typical high school quality — they are exceptional. Our WYSE team wins State. It’s so neat to be a part of two such special groups of students and moderators. The energy in the theater program is contagious, and we work to touch patrons’ souls through our craft. The scholarship in the English WYSE sessions is admirable and showcases a concern for the mastery of our language. What’s more is that these are extra-curricular activities, and students don’t have to do extra when they work as hard as they do on coursework alone. They take these on because they enjoy them and want to grow in the skills each activity offers. That’s dedication! And I love being a part of that!
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
JS: While they may develop over time, the qualities that mark a Fenwick student include striving for excellence in all pursuits, a strong constitution — Friars are “of steel” — and well-rounded, fun-to-be-around personalities. We have some of the best students in the world. I love that our students see the teachers as persons to work with, not against. I love that they not only don’t mind being nudged to step it up, but request that extra push when they know they need one. If most Fenwick students think they have done mediocre work, no one will be harder on those students than those students themselves. Despite this tendency, they are fun-loving, well-balanced, and virtuous individuals.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
JS: I think the most important strengths I have include being organized and prepared daily — I don’t wing it; establishing a well-structured environment to maximize instruction time and learning; keeping the bar high for my students but not too high; making time for prayer and reminding students that nothing is more important that their relationship with God; and equipping myself with a pretty good sense of humor regularly. (I have had a day here and there when I’ve been a bit surly, and I apologize for those, but it’s funny that my former students point even those days out as stories to laugh about.)
What do you like most about teaching as a career?
JS: As a career in general, I like sharing information and skills and witnessing what wonderful things students, in their uniqueness, do with them. As a career in teaching at Fenwick, I like that I am helping to develop a work ethic and criticality in students who will be the best at what they do. They will be the ones who see the details and the big picture in any given field, at any position on the job. It will drive them up a wall at times, but the fields, the projects, the output will be the better for it. I like that I’m helping to develop traits that these students will carry with them to make their world — our world — better.
What is your philosophy of education?
JS: My philosophy of education coincides with a Dominican — specifically a Thomist — philosophy of education. As a teacher, I am both an imparter of information and skills, and a guide for spiritual and character development. To achieve this, I must not only teach the content and skills of my subject matters and work to lead students closer to God and the Church, but also instill a strong discipline by encouraging focus, mental endurance, and strength of will. Allowing for this includes my emphasis on critical thinking and memorization, innovative lessons and traditional lecture, intellectual growth and spiritual development.
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
JS: In addition to witnessing, if not being a part of, the many accomplishments of my coworkers and students, one of my greatest successes is the many relationships I’ve built with those in the Fenwick community. It’s special to have had a positive effect on a good number of students, an effect they might come to recall down the line. But it’s even more special when a coworker and I develop a lasting friendship and when a student, after graduating, wants to keep up with me — and does, for years and years. I am undeserving of these relationships as it takes a strong person to want to keep me in his or her life, but I am so grateful for these special relationships and the ability to keep up with so many former students as they pursue careers, get married, become a religious, and/or have children. That my impact has been strong enough that people want to keep up with me is my greatest success, I think.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?
JS: Too many things present themselves as helpful or valuable but in reality chip away at their virtue or their development of virtue. If the conveniences of technology are at the expense of important values, then certain technological “advances” need to go by the wayside. If the ease of connecting through social media comes at the cost of interpersonal skills, then this form of “socializing,” sharing, and learning needs to be tabled. So much of what I see students doing today contributes to a lack of focus, misplaced priorities, unproductive use of time, and a strange isolation of self even amid community. Most importantly, though, is that too much attention to materialistic “gains” blinds our students to the importance of the spiritual ones. Some students are coming to Fenwick without the foggiest notion of God and Church, let alone that our Lord needs to be the Most Important Factor, Force, Entity in their lives. As I learned from a visit to Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother reiterates that putting God in the first place in our lives allows everything else to fall into place. Putting God first brings a joy that only God can provide, a true and lasting joy.
Who are the most influential individuals in your career at Fenwick?
JS: I’ve looked up to many people over the years, sometimes without even knowing it. There are too many to name, but here are a few. My parents are the most influential persons, especially in how they raised me and through their support of my work at Fenwick. Mr. DePaldo was not only my English teacher at Fenwick twice but also became a friend and mentor when I became a teacher here. A number of the Dominican Sisters who taught me at the university level helped me become a stronger student of English and French, and in so doing, a better teacher. I am grateful to all these positive influences.
Since becoming a teacher at Fenwick, what are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
JS: I’ve learned that at Fenwick, students see their teachers as more than that guy who stands in front of the room and teaches them English or French, more than that guy who directs them in a play or coaches them. They see teachers as guides and mentors, too. And they respect that dynamic to the relationship. I’ve learned to see texts, behaviors and approaches to doing things from multiple perspectives. I’ve learned from my students and coworkers about the power of forgiveness and loyalty, too.
Any memorable moments?
JS: Too many to list. Some of my favorite memories include laughing with my students and coworkers, especially over some of my goofy stories (Tough Guy, Waterbottles or Vereena “the moaner”), my unfortunate missteps (accidentally chucking an ice cream bar into the tv, being portrayed as a narcissistic student in Banua, or shouting, “I need a Dick [a character’s name] and a Nancy on stage now!”), and funny things my students or teachers have done.
Other enjoyable moments include watching my former students working at Fenwick and doing great things. Joe Ori '03, Head of Admissions, and Jen (Morris) Ori '06, English teacher, are among the finest additions to Fenwick I’ve seen, and I taught them both. Seeing my former students in action in other careers and raising families is so special to me, too, like the Flood twins (Matt and Mark '02), both pilots, taking me up in their plane, or Mike and Erin (Tedesco) Androwich '08 bringing their newborn over to meet me.
Reading any positive letter from a colleague, a student, or a student’s parent has made for memorable moments for me, too. Heart-felt words, thoughtfully crafted, mean a lot to me.
Watching my students put on my original play and exceed my expectations — what a thrill! Thinking about it still brings a big smile to my face!
JS: Yes! Come see the fall play, "Is He Dead?" on November 3rd, 4th and 5th! The students can’t wait to perform in front of an audience! It’s a farce from beginning to end, so there are many goofy moments and laughs!