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Matthew Fahrenbacher: Behind the Scenes of Niles West

By Pavle Vuksanovic, Staff Writer

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During the school day, roaming from class to class, Matthew Fahrenbacher is like any other teacher at Niles West. He teaches five classes a day, with a section of Advanced App Development, a section AP Computer Science A, and three sections of Precalculus. However, Fahrenbacher isn’t a normal teacher.

By stepping into his App Development class, we see the knowledge he holds in computer science, helping a hectic class full of students coding independent projects in different languages. Outside of the classroom, we see Fahrenbacher in almost every asset of West. He’s a math team coach, a WYSE coach, the head of App Development Club, and a coach/tech head for debate. And, with this big of a daily load, and a young daughter at home, Mr. Fahrenbacher also became a Cross Country and track coach starting last year.

Starting from his extremely large repertoire of activities, the one which seems least apparent is his involvement in debate. Fahrenbacher now takes up much of the behind the scenes work for the debate team.

“Originally, debate took up almost all of my free time between coaching and tech-related issues.  Currently, I manage mostly the technical side of things for the debate team, such as the website, helping with laptop problems, etc,” Fahrenbacher said. “I enjoyed doing debate as a high schooler, and I was excited to help (re)start the Niles West program back in 2010 with Eric Oddo.”

Senior Umar Ahmed, who used to do debate, comments on his experience with Fahrenbacher inside and outside of the classroom.

“Mr. Fahrenbacher goes above and beyond what is expected of a teacher. I first met him when he was coaching me at my first debate tournament. From there it became clear to me Mr. Fahrenbacher really cares about his students’ success,” Ahmed said. “I also had him for AP computer science and he went out of his way to ensure I got the grade I wanted by the end of the semester.”

More up his alley are his involvements in WYSE and App Development club. WYSE is a seasonal competition taking up time in the winter, and app development club, his own creation, is an on and off time commitment which depends off of fluctuating student interest.

“I got into [WYSE] because Sharon Mikula was retiring and they needed a new assistant coach.  I didn’t know much about the activity when it started, but I realized that I could help a great deal with the mathematics and computer science portions of the competition,” Farhenbacher said. “[App development club] is sort of a zombie club that has been created, died, and been resurrected many times.  I know students need a place to play around with coding outside of class time, but it’s been difficult to find a time that doesn’t conflict with the rest of my schedule.  Currently, we meet on Friday mornings, which has been working pretty well.  This club takes about an hour out of my time each week.”

On top of all of this, Fahrenbacher spends time as the oralist coach for the math team. The oralist is a single student who learns college-level topics and presents them, and Fahrenbacher took up the job of coaching when he first got the job at Niles West. Graduated student Elaine Tran was the oralist last year, and she recalls her experience with Fahrenbacher.

“Mr. Fahrenbacher was one of my favorite teachers at West. I had him for all four years of high school in AP Computer Science, five semesters of App Development, and math team. Some of my favorite things he does as a teacher is constantly keeping his courses fresh by creating new projects and the fact that he is always trying to build solutions to problems he sees around the school,” Tran said. “His passion for what he teaches definitely shows as an oralist coach too. I once had a math team teacher from another school tell me how lucky I was to have him as my coach.”

Lastly, the newest undertaking of Fahrenbacher is his involvement with track and cross country. He decided to translate his hobby over to Niles West when he saw the impact he could have helping students.

“I’ve had a fair amount of experience running (did Cross Country and Track in high school, a lot of amateur running since then), and I thought coaching would give me the opportunity to share my love for running with students.  Practices after school go till about five, and meets can range from a couple of hours to most of the day (especially for Track),” Fahrenbacher said. “This doesn’t count the time I spend doing data analysis for the teams.”

Of all the unbelievably overbooked people at Niles West, Fahrenbacher tops them all. Not only does he keep up with student projects in all different areas of computer science, but he also coaches three academic teams, runs a club, and coaches a junior varsity level sport.

“To answer the bigger question of why I do so many different activities, part of it is simple inertia. Once I pick up a responsibility, I tend to hold on to it.  One thing I do a pretty good job of is becoming more efficient at my work the more I do it,” Fahrenbacher said. “I suppose in some way I feel that dropping an activity is letting down someone, although I’m starting to realize my limits and I’m becoming a little better at saying no… kind of.”

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