Mary Visteen has migrated from Fenwick’s English Department to the Counseling Department in Student Services.
What is your educational background?
MV: B.A. – University of Illinois at Chicago; M.A. – DePaul University; M.A. in progress – Concordia University (River Forest)
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
MV: I taught at Hinsdale Central High School as a part-time Academic Resource Coordinator, and then I taught English at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, IL.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
MV: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A former, favorite student who knew that I admired her just dropped it off before Thanksgiving.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
MV: I am in graduate school and I am a mother of three (ages 9, 6, and 3) so my “spare” time is limited to pursue anything of great interest. However, I do squeeze in time to compete in obstacle races. I am on a Spartan team for the June competition. Ever since I was little, I loved being on a team. I love competition and a group of people working together for a common goal — it is how I see education in general. We need to bring everyone in our classroom to the same level.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
MV: I played water polo (and swam to keep in shape). I loved water polo. I started playing when I was 10 and played at IU for my first two years of college — the level of competition was fierce, but afforded me so many amazing opportunities for travel and many academic advantages.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
MV: I am in charge of the Equality Club. I was a coach for water polo but I haven’t done that for five years now. I also was the Write Place moderator.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
MV: Fenwick students are driven. The air here is a different texture than where I went to high school. Though I had goals and expectations for myself, here, students put a lot of pressure on themselves to be at the top level of everything — I admire that drive, but also hope that students take some time to take care of themselves, to laugh, and to enjoy these moments. High school is a special time and it is over so quickly.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
MV: I was originally a science major as I entered IU. I wanted to do neurological research or lab work. In fact, since I came from a long line of teachers, I was dead set against becoming a teacher. I grew up with a sister who had Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls, and it inhibited her from speaking, or walking, or doing anything on her own. Long story, short, she ended up passing away midway through my sophomore year at IU; her death made me question a lot of my decisions.
I finished out the school year and came home to be closer to my family. Though I started at UIC’s biology program, I had to take some 100-level English classes to fulfill my gen-ed requirements and I ended up in an Intro to Theater class. The professor and I became close friends, and he introduced me to the Writing Center Director. My interest in literature, language and writing began to flourish. At the end of my first semester at UIC, I started working in the Writing Center on campus and began taking more literature and writing courses. My interest in the sciences started to wane. While I was in the Writing Center, I developed relationships with a lot of the English faculty. They encouraged me to think about education.
Although I was in opposition to the idea, our center began to build workshops with local schools and the relationships I built with students in those workshops influenced me to take the suggestion more seriously. Then the next year, I began coaching water polo with my sister at York High School, which finally convinced me to seek out my education credentials. So I applied to DePaul for their English Education Master’s program.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
MV: I have high expectations but I have always maintained that the individual is first. I focus on their writing and critical thinking since logic and communication are skills they will need for their entire lives. I hope that I am approachable. I hope that students see me as a person who has empathy for them.
What are your favorite classes to teach?
MV: I now only teach AP Language and Composition (one class) since I counsel the entire freshman class. [She was the Class of 2018 Counselor last school year.]
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
MV: I have had a few really great memories and so many students who are forever etched in my mind. From my very first eight-person APLAC class to my first senior Brit Lit class — the class that should have won Tug of War had I not had a baby at the start of the competition! I have met so many wonderful, talented young people. They have inspired me to continue to learn and to be brave enough to set new goals for myself — to not shy away from challenges even though many years have passed since I left college.
What challenges face students today?
MV: With the rise in technology, students are constantly bombarded with information, which in effect elicits pressure to mature at a faster rate than previous generations due to early exposure to mature content — no matter how strict parental controls are.