Teacher returns to Althoff after varied career in science, education

Staff writer

Dave Fahrner has come full circle.

He’s back teaching anatomy, physiology and biology in Room 304 at Althoff Catholic High School – the same classroom he taught in as a young teacher in 1977. And back in the school he attended himself as a high school student.

In between, he’s taught and coached in public schools and worked in corporate fitness. He says he’s happy to be back where it all began.

“It’s great when you can be useful doing something you enjoy,” Fahrner says.

While he enjoyed his years working in public schools – he retired from Freeburg Community High School after more than 25 years of teaching – he’s drawn to the deeper lessons he can teach in a Catholic school.

“We emphasize Catholic values, we really do,” Fahrner says, pointing out a sign on the wall: “Rooted in Jesus Christ and Catholic values, we aspire to achieve our personal best in all we do.” For Fahrner, and other staff and students, they’re not just words to be repeated, but a mission statement to be lived.

“Dave has a passion for working with kids and he has an understanding of Catholic education, of instilling faith into the classroom,” says Althoff Principal Dave Harris, who asked Fahrner to come back to his old stomping grounds this school year. “I know he’s very strong in his faith.

“He knows we’re not just teaching lessons about a class, but lessons about life.”

When Fahrner began teaching at Althoff in 1977, he also coached the football, basketball and baseball teams. While he may have started with a greater interest in coaching, “I very quickly discovered that I enjoyed teaching,” he says.

In 1982, he left for a teaching and coaching position in Carmi, Illinois. That lasted a year – he and his wife wanted to be back among family in the Metro East. But he still remembers the priest at St. Polycarp Catholic Church reaching out to his family to make them feel at home.

Back in Belleville, Fahrner briefly filled in teaching seventh- and eighth-grade math and science at High Mount School – “it was my only year in a grade school” – then switched gears, working for St. Louis University Hospital in corporate fitness programs and helping heart patients.

He says the experience still informs his teaching today, noting that he’d recently had a conversation with his students about maintaining an exercise program for heart health.

Eventually, he returned to the classroom and the football field, first at Edwardsville High School and then at Freeburg. After retiring from Freeburg, he spent last year with the Belleville Area Special Service Cooperatives, working with students with autism.

Everywhere he went, Fahrner says he worked with great administrators and colleagues. “I’ve worked with tremendous people,” he says.

After all this time, the teaching bug still hasn’t left him. He happily accepted Harris’ invitation to come back to teach at Althoff. His classroom looks much like it did before, but with newer lab stations. Fahrner notes that Althoff now has a brand new STREAM lab, geared toward science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math.

Fahrner’s field of science education has changed tremendously since he began teaching more than four decades ago.

“There’s been a total explosion of information,” he says. “Technology has played a big part in that. I think when I started, I wasn’t even using overhead projectors; I just passed out handouts.”

Now thanks to the Internet, a classroom discussion that veers into new scientific territory can be backed up with detailed information immediately.
Fahrner says one of the biggest changes is the society in which today’s high schoolers are growing up.

“Society has changed, and kids are mirrors of society, so yes, they’ve changed – everyone has changed, you’ve changed, I’ve changed,” he says. “We’re a different society with different problems.”

He believes that the Catholic values instilled at Althoff are a vital preparation for navigating that society.

Fahrner is not the only Althoff faculty member who has returned to the school after years away – Harris says he did the same. And he notes that the school has its share of teachers who’ve been there for decades, as well as those who are Althoff alumni.

“It’s great that they want to be back here,” Harris says. “It’s a family community here.”

Fahrner agrees, noting that the sense of community keeps bringing families back to Althoff, including his own. “My family went here; my wife’s family went here. People take pride in going to Althoff.”

And he hopes to keep coming back to Room 304.

“I enjoy it,” he says. “And as long as I enjoy it, and they’ll have me, I’ll be here.”