Faculty Focus

Faculty Focus: November 2020

Science Teacher Michael Trankina is in his fifth year of teaching at Fenwick.
What is your educational background?
MT: I have taken an interesting path in my education post my time here as a student at Fenwick – I am an ’84 graduate. My first few years out of Fenwick, I jumped around from school to school with no real direction or success. Looking back, I had no idea whatsoever as to what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up giving up on college and selling cars for a living by the time I was 20 years old. I did this for about four years and had reasonable success. But the success was financial only, and I was miserable. I realized that I wanted more from life. My plan at that point was to get an education degree because I wanted to coach basketball. I enrolled at Concordia University in River Forest. I took anatomy and physiology to satisfy a science requirement, and I was hooked. I got my bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a major in biology. I am currently exploring/enrolling in a master’s of science education from Concordia.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
MT: Wow. Again, a different path to get there… Before I started teaching, I worked in car sales, as a bartender, a barista for a coffee chain and a corporate trainer for that same coffee company. The majority of my prior work experience was as a science tutor. I did that for 15 years and was quite successful. I did private tutoring and amassed quite a clientele. The last 10 years was full-time with an average client load of about 30 to 40 students – depending on the time of year. It is amazing what word-of-mouth advertising can do in some communities. It helped that I loved what I did.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
MT: I wish I had more opportunity to read. It seems like these days, I pick up the book and I am falling asleep 10 pages later. But right now, I am reading a book called Bad Monkey by a Florida writer named Carl Hiaasen. I have read almost everything written by Hiaasen. He is hands-down the funniest fiction author out there. I am talking laugh-out-loud/have-to-put-the-book-down funny.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
MT: I hate to give the standard answer, but the free time to pursue those other interests is rather limited these days. When I have a chance, I love to golf. In addition, I am fascinated with cars and follow college basketball and the NBA. I cannot leave out napping. I have become quite good at it!

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
MT: I was a swimmer my first couple of years here at Fenwick. I also participated in Student Council. And, I was in Banua my junior and senior years. I played guitar and attempted to sing. I did this along with one of my friends and, thankfully, he had enough talent to carry the both of us.

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
MT: I am lucky enough to have the best coaching jobs here at Fenwick. At least that is what I think. I coach girls’ golf and girls’ bowling. I coach the chemistry portion of the WYSE Team, which is now known as the Academic Challenge. And, I am one of the moderators for the Medical Club.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
MT: Fenwick students are driven. They are very goal-oriented, with the ultimate goal usually being admission into the college/university of their choice. I also see the Fenwick students as being supportive of each other. Cliques do not dominate the social structure as they do in so many other walks of life.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
MT: It was towards the end of my car-selling days. I realized that money was not the motivator I needed to get up and go to work every day. I wanted a career where what I did on a daily basis could affect others’ lives in a positive way.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
MT: For me, empathy is the cornerstone of what makes me (hopefully) a good teacher. I have always had the ability to see things from others’ perspectives and to adjust my behavior and actions accordingly. I feel as though having good communication skills are also, obviously, important. In the end, let’s face it, I’m funny as heck -- and humble.
What are your favorite classes to teach?
MT: They are all my favorites in one way or another. If I had to pick one, I would say honors chemistry would be the right balance of the things that I like.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
MT: I don’t think I’ve had a greatest success. I believe that each “smaller success” is equally great. This happens when I have helped a student raise her or his grade; or a student develops a confidence that wasn’t there before; or a student develops a love for science! These are every bit as important to me as the student being accepted into a highly selective school or having influenced someone into a career that they love. This is why I love teaching at Fenwick. Because I get to experience all kinds of successes with my students!

What challenges face students today?
MT: I think the biggest challenge that today’s students face is overload: pressures from every direction; not enough time in the day. For many of them, it seems like they feel they must be a part of multiple extracurricular activities while balancing a social life and, of course, keeping up their grades. Obviously, each of these is important. But when too much is taken on, something has to give. Sleep is one of the things that is sacrificed. I think that the high school students of today are amazing in the way they can keep everything afloat. I just wish that they would experience some balance in their lives.
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