Teacher Of The Issue: Mr. Fine


Caroline Capone

Mr. Fine, Varsity and Junior Varsity Debate students applaud new Novice Debaters or “debabies” as referred to by Fine. Along with Debate, Fine teaches AP Language and Composition and Honors Survey of Literature.

By Caroline Capone, Reporter

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Mr. Fine barely spoke in school. He described his high school as homogeneous, where the students were not diverse. He said that at his more conservative high school he got bullied, and when he realized he wanted to be an English teacher, he stressed the importance of creating a safe space where students could feel comfortable while learning.  

“I always loved learning, but I never felt safe at school,” Fine said. “I got bullied from kindergarten through senior year of high school, for being small, for being gay, for being nerdy, for whatever it was. I loved to learn but I never felt comfortable in school.”  

Fine attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he became more outspoken and confident. Fine said the environment at Madison was much more open-minded. He decided that he wanted his classroom to be a safe environment for students, leading to the creation of a hate-free zone or magic bubble.    

“I wanted it to be a magic bubble where my students could come and feel accepted and loved, and appreciated so that they could feel comfortable enough to learn and be their best self,” Fine said. “I tell my students a lot that learning can’t take place in an atmosphere of anxiety. I want them to feel protected in our magic bubble, where it’s safe to learn and explore, and grow.”

Fine, who teaches Honors Survey of Literature, Debate, and AP Language and Composition, said that he hadn’t planned on being an English teacher. Like most high school students, he had no idea what he wanted to be.

Eventually, after working as an overnight camp counselor, as a dance teacher and at a restaurant where he would train new staff members, he realized that everything he loved was centered around teaching.

“I really loved working with kids and teaching and helping people,” Fine said. “I was majoring in English, so it kind of came together. I realized that I could do both by being an English teacher.”

Fine started teaching at Lane seven years ago, but prior to his employment, he taught as a student teacher with Ms. Coleman and Ms. Mason, who helped him get an interview and ultimately a job at Lane.

According to Fine, teaching at Lane is his dream job. Observing and student teaching at Lane played a big role in his decision to apply as a teacher.  

“The first class I sat in on, I saw 32 different flavors of ice cream, every student was unique and celebrated for being themselves, and I just was so inspired,” Fine said. “I felt like this is the place where I absolutely wanted to be.”  

According to Alessandro Vargas, Div. 960, Fine’s classroom is supportive and family oriented.    

“I think it would be an understatement to say that it is one of the best atmospheres at Lane,” Vargas said. “I’ve never felt more at home in a school. I didn’t have a good elementary school experience, so being able to find that home here in that debate room is really important to me.”    

Daisy Saavedra, Div. 985, recalled her seventh period class with Fine freshman year as being  the part of her afternoon she looked forward to every day. She described him as helpful, encouraging and extremely enthusiastic.

“He encourages you to be yourself and to not change for anyone,” Saavedra said. “He is so positive and always had a smile on his face.”

Fine has high expectations for his students, but he tells them that it is OK to struggle or even fail initially.

“I teach honors and AP classes, and I’m the head coach of the Debate team,” Fine said. “These are highly competitive, stressful types of rigorous academic realms, but I always tell them as long as you give 100 percent all the time, things will work out in the end.”

Fine said that he makes an agreement at the beginning of the year with his students to give as little homework as possible. With his teaching style, he aims to be entertaining and  approachable; he is also highly organized. Fine expects his students to arrive to class on time and be prepared as soon as the bell rings.

“I tell them it’s a 50-minute show that I have going on. I do five shows a day, five days a week and they need to be here on time,” Fine said. “During those 50 minutes, I want to utilize every minute doing something that my students are going to be excited about and challenged by.”     

Vargas described Fine as different from teachers who see their job as solely a form of income.  

“There’s teachers who want to pick up a check,” Vargas said. “They come here and read a script and it’s definitely not like that in debate. It will never be if someone’s learning under Mr. Fine.”

Fine said that one of the reasons why he loves to teach English at Lane is because he feels as though the skills learned throughout the year in each one of his classes are skills that can be applied to life. One of his favorite quotes is by Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

Fine said his classroom works in a similar manner.

“I tell them we learn difficult and challenging skills with reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar and that we are at the bottom of the ladder,” Fine said. “If you don’t understand anything that happened today, that’s OK because tomorrow we’re going to pick up where we left off and continue to build.”  

Vargas said that when Fine speaks to his students, he talks about topics that are relevant to class, while also teaching students how to carry themselves.  

“He knows how to speak and articulate things in a way that makes kids happier,” Vargas said.

Additionally, Fine said that the biggest reason he loves Lane is the students. He said that he always encourages his students to reach for the stars and achieve their dreams, be brave, take risks and be confident in themselves.  

“I think someone who is a high school student, they are basically in a house, and all the doors are open, all the doors are unlocked, and all the windows are open,” Fine said. “They could do anything, and I just want to encourage my students to feel empowered to shoot for the moon and know that even if they miss, they will land among the stars.”