What is your educational background?
NF: I grew up in Forest Park, attended Fenwick High School (Class of 2004) and graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in accountancy. After graduating, I worked for Forest Park Public Schools for a year, before moving to Champaign to coach hockey at the University of Illinois for 10 years. While I was there, I worked in various roles for the Champaign School District, including being an AVID tutor for three years and a teacher's assistant for the Functional Life Skills Program for another three years.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
NF: I started coaching youth hockey right after graduating from Illinois, including a 2 year stint here at Fenwick before I moved back to Champaign to take the Head Coach job at the University of Illinois. I coached at Illinois for 10 years, worked for the Champaign School district for 8 years, and was the Coaching Director of the Champaign-Urbana Youth Hockey Association for 6 years.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
NF: Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play like a Champion by Pete Carroll.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
NF: I really enjoy getting outside when the weather warms up, and enjoy watching and playing sports, golf especially. I love animals and have adopted a few older foster dogs the last few years to give them a good home in their twilight years.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
NF: I played soccer, hockey and baseball here at Fenwick. I was also a member of the National Honor Society, and was a recipient of the Lawless Award for my performance on the entrance exam.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
NF: I am the Head Coach of the Varsity Hockey team and oversee the rest of the hockey program. I am actually looking to get involved with a spring sport also and plan on reaching out to coaches after spring tryouts to see how I can help.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
NF: I think Fenwick students are responsible and resilient. Things are not easy here at Fenwick so being responsible with your time and accountable to yourself is key. There are also going to be hard classes and a bad grade here or there for just about every student here at Fenwick. It's not going through adversity, but our response to it that defines us as Friars.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
NF: I actually made the decision to work with kids in the summer of 2008 when I had an internship at the Boys and Girls Club in Champaign. I was an Accounting major at Illinois at the time, but had a great time working with kids of all ages that summer and began to realize the impact I could have working with kids not only just in social or athletic environments, but in learning environments as well.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
NF: I think my ability to relate to students and break information down in different ways really helps me connect with students. And in my experience, when students understand that you are knowledgeable and care about them and their success, they are more likely to give their best effort at any task they may be attempting - inside and outside of the classroom.
What are your favorite classes to teach?
NF: I really enjoy math and history. Math has always been a passion of mine, and I thoroughly enjoy helping students understand the processes required to solve different kinds of equations. I like history because there is so much to learn from our past
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
NF: I am very proud of the work we did in the Functional Life Skills room at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign. Our students came from all different backgrounds with varying levels of disabilities, and by the time they would leave us in 8th grade they were socializing with other adults and their peers and they were ready for high school and anything that may come after, including working in the community. They were a great group and very rewarding to work with.
What challenges face students today?
NF: There are so many. From continuing to deal with the fallout of COVID to growing up in the digital age where social media and screen time are just expected to be a part of daily life, I think it can be really hard to be a middle school or high school student today. I also think that a number of students struggle with developing their own methodology to solve problems as they come up in school or elsewhere. I think it's crucial that we allow them to develop these skills for their growth as young adults. Too often we think we are helping by guiding students to the answer or an easier way, when in reality there is so much to be learned from going through adversity and learning from your mistakes.