NDA Staff Answers Question: Why Am I Here?

 

Advisers’ Note:  Peter Weiss, religion teacher and NDA alum, kicked off the four days of inservice with a TED talk centered on the question WHY?  He then challenged the staff to contemplate their own “why?”  Why are they at NDA?  Why are they the person they are?  Weiss went first, sharing his own story. . . . and session after session this teacher and that staff member inspired everyone with his personal story.  Like a good virus, the “tell your story” idea has spread to alumni (check out other stories here in The Tritonian) and at least one parent has asked if she could tell HER story.  We welcome your story–Why did you choose NDA for your school?  What did you appreciate about the school? What are you doing with your life?  What special memories do you cherish from your days here?  Tell Your Story. . . by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

Peter Weiss, Theology Teacher

I am a teacher because of people like Mr. Gideon and Mrs. Gomoll and Ms. Kidder and Mrs. Galonski. I am a teacher because of people like Mr. Schultz and Ms. Mahlock and Mr. Geiser and Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Mellberg. These and countless other teachers inspired me and made me excited about learning. I am a teacher because I hope to have the same impact on my students.

I teach at a Catholic school because, for me, living as a disciple of Christ is the best way to live, and I want to teach in a place where I can express that feeling openly. I also believe the best education is one that focuses on the whole person, and I believe Catholic schools do this better than any other schools.

I teach at Notre Dame because it is home for me. From the time I started attending football games on the hill in 4th grade, I couldn’t wait to go to school here. During my four years of high school, I cherished the opportunity to grow academically, socially, and spiritually. I truly loved my high school experience here. From the time I left, I looked forward to the time that I would get to come back here and work, hoping to help students be inspired and challenged in the same way that I was. This is why I am a teacher at Notre Dame today.

 

Crystal Dory, Spanish teacher

When Peter Weiss asked me to do this on Friday, I was very excited about his idea–until I realized how nervous and emotional I get talking in front of big groups of adults. And so why I am standing here right now, I have no idea.  But I could talk for hours about why I do what I do.  I won’t talk for hours; I will simply give you my 3 “becauses.”

I teach because I love to learn.  I was not a straight A student in high school.  I got Bs and Cs.  But I loved going to school every day. I loved my classes; yes, Harry Geiser, even my math classes! And what made me love my high school experience so much was my teachers. I was challenged by Mr. Carpenter, I asked questions because of Mr. Harris and Mrs. Trapp, I read and read because of Mr. Nelson and was inspired with a passion for language and travel by Sra. Noble (“Noblita” we called her because she was so short).   And to this day I would never change a thing.  My experience in Brown Deer set me up as a lifetime learner.

My second “because” is my passion for language and travel.  It is a huge part of why I do what I do.  I roam the world fueled by who I meet, what I eat and the adventure that meets me at every corner.  With my favorite travel companion at my side, we journey together to bring the world back to our classrooms.  And when I find myself back at my podium in Room 215, I hope my “why” for teaching Spanish is evident to my students–with every crazy story of travel mishaps, language fumbles and the kindness of strangers that connects us on this earth.  My hope is that my students will to be inspired to pursue language and travel in their future adventures.

My 3rd “why” took a little bit longer to discover. I was raised Pentecostal in an Assemblies of God inner-city church in Milwaukee. My Pentecostal mom raised in Yuma, Arizona, married my Lutheran Marine father from Wisconsin. When he moved her back here, she converted him.  My experience at Parklawn and the 2-3 hour Sunday morning services taught me that loving God was a loud experience.  And so why would a public school, Pentecostal girl want to work at a private Catholic high school? And, my Catholic friends, don’t be offended when I say I always thought Catholicism was a quiet religion.  Church for me was Sister Nichols in her beautiful Sunday hats playing the tambourine and the length of praise and worship that was scheduled around the movement of the Holy Spirit.  So when I first attended masses my first and second year here, it was hard for me to find God in such a quiet setting.  Why weren’t people shouting the name of God or Jesus and shouting in tongues??  It just didn’t seem like church to me. But after many years here at Notre Dame I can barely remember who that young teacher was that was feeling like that.  I see us shouting the name of Jesus in everything that we do.

We shout the name of Jesus in the quiet hours on a Saturday or Sunday that we come in to prep and into the late evening hours on school nights.

We shout the name of Jesus in the locker rooms and on the sidelines while our teams play their hearts out.

We shout the name of Jesus backstage and in the music and band rooms.

We shout the name of Jesus in every office that works round the clock to keep the building running smoothly.

We shout the name of Jesus in the early morning hours of club meetings, before-school tutoring and test study sessions.

We shout the name of Jesus and sometimes “save room for Jesus” during the weekends for our school dances.

We shout the name of Jesus in our masses where we all gather as the NDA community which  has become my most favorite part of my job.

And in our classrooms every day in the little and big ways we shout the name of Jesus to our students.

 

And so, my 3rd “because” is I teach here because this is no doubt where I belong.

 

Elizabeth Huntley, English teacher

I have a photographic memory…I can recall words on a page, colors of a book, location of a book on a shelf, the look of my babies when they figured out what reading was all about and the look on Noah’s face when he took off on his two-wheeled bike.  I love images.  One of my favorite Christian images is of the communion table. I love thinking about Christ and all of his disciples having dinner together, joking and laughing, teasing and challenging each other.  At different times in my life I’ve been Martha preparing the meal, fretting about the procedures and process of feeding all of those people and I’ve been Mary sitting and enjoying the moment.  I like to think about my classroom in terms of the communion table…and that’s the reason why I teach here.

My strengths finder survey indicated that one of my strengths is connectedness…I have faith in all things and that my life and others are linked together by Heavenly Father’s purpose. I believe that everything happens for a reason and my being at NDA is no exception.  My desire to teach began in kindergarten–I came home from school and began to teach my two-and-a-half year old sister everything. (Poor thing, she was never the same again.) My continued desire to teach was nurtured by both my father and my husband’s journeys in the English classroom.  

My father, a control systems engineer, was offered a full-ride science scholarship at Ohio State on the condition that he pass and succeed in all of his final classes. He entered the Senior English classroom with the confidence of a cocky teenager. “The old bat will pass me,” he told his friends.  My dad didn’t do the work, he didn’t demonstrate the skills required to pass Senior English, and the expected result followed. My father began his second senior year in another high school, and the rest, as they say, is history.  

My own beloved, while a brilliant manager of both individuals and technology, finds Shakespeare a bore and reading anything but biographies and technical manuals a waste of time. (Fortunately my children read everything: biographies, box scores, sports columns and technical manuals.) His own experience in the classroom included teachers “dumbing down” the curriculum and expecting little or nothing from him and from his friends. He lived up, or rather down, to the teacher expectations.

I teach because of my dad, my husband and others who deserve to have a teacher working beside them, cheering them on–encouraging, prompting, challenging and praising them.  But this is why I teach–not why I teach here.

I teach because I believe—in the Holy Spirit, Heavenly Father and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I believe that we’ve been called to our noble work to illuminate with the joy of Christ, to draw others to the table.  All others.  To one table.
My tools are simple–inspired novels, short stories and poems–the literature with which English teachers work.  And while my colleagues across the river, down the street and over the highway may use the same text to discuss symbols, to analyze syntax and to evaluate characters, I can discuss the Communion table and the power of Oneness with my students, I can discuss sacrifice and serving the greater good with my students, and I can discuss forgiveness and being human with my students.  I can gather them to the tables in my room and show them in classic, contemporary and current text references to the Bible.  I can evaluate with them the beauty of a C.S. Lewis essay and delight in the majesty of an inspired Father Gordon poem. I can read with them Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and then juxtapose Paul’s letters so that my students understand how a faithful man is called to serve in our world.  I have the freedom and the responsibility to teach literature.  All of the literature.  To all of my students.  At my tables.

 

Cathy Nick, Main Office 

When I was about to graduate from 8th grade at St. Mary’s of the Angels School (which is now St. Thomas More), I asked my father if I could go to St. Joseph Academy.  My father’s said in response, “That wouldn’t be fair to your sisters, we have five kids, we can’t afford it, end of sermon.”  And when my father said “end of sermon,” I knew the subject was closed – for good.

Attending a large, public high school was difficult for me.  Honestly, it was like culture shock.  Being shy and overweight, I certainly wasn’t popular.  And I learned very quickly how cruel kids can be.  And oh boy, were they ever!

The late, great Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  To this day, I have never forgotten how some of those kids back in high school made me feel.

In my Strength Finder assessment, I learned my top strength is empathy.  So whenever and where ever I can offer a friendly “hello,” a reassuring word, a helpful gesture or just a smile to a student, a parent, a faculty member, or a visitor to our building, I will do it.  In fact, I will go out of my way to do it.  And that is why I am here.

Why NDA?

  • Because in the past I’ve worked in public education and, although we may have some good public schools in Green Bay, I do not want to work at a good school. . . I want to work at a GREAT school.  And NDA is a GREAT school!
  • Because thanks to Sr. Madelyn, my grade school English teacher, to this day I can still diagram a sentence! (And I am very proud of that!)
  • Because last July,  from the moment I walked into the front door for my interview with Dr. Ravizza, I felt a positive energy and a feeling of community and a feeling of family that is beyond compare  
  • That is NDA.  And that is why I am here.  And thanks to all of you for that!

 

Doug Guyette, Math Teacher 

The narrative of how I chose teaching, chose Math teaching,and how I arrived at NDA, is an uninspiring series of pragmatic choices.  I chose to teach, because at the time I made that choice, the profession seemed like it suited me.  I perceived autonomy, annual renewal, job security, retirement, the chance to contribute to society, whatever that meant, and though you were never supposed to say it, yes, the summertime.  

I chose math because I was good at it for some reason.  I figured that it would be much easier to find and retain a position as a math teacher because, well, it’s math.  Who else would do it?

Before teaching at NDA, I taught at a school where I witnessed a regression from a progressive and effective school environment to a toxic and stagnant one.  For a variety of reasons, I found myself in a place where I could no longer feel effective, like I couldn’t make any kind of difference. NDA seemed a perfect transition because they had an IB program, and had a great reputation in the community. . . and because they offered me a job.  

While considering the capital “W” Why I am here, however, I found these reasons to be inadequate.  Superficial.  They don’t really explain much about why I do what I do, and why I do it here.  If I left it at that, I wouldn’t contribute to the conversation any real insight, except that I’m practical, maybe, and lucky, most certainly.  

The truth is, each of those reasons reflects the extent of my thought processes before making each of those life decisions.  BUT, after making each choice I was faced with a reality that I couldn’t have anticipated.  I found that some of my perceptions were wrong (not about NDA’s rep by the way), and faced with the real, I had to reflect on my real reasons for doing this.  I had to have reasons to keep teaching math that were strong enough to convince me to wake up before the sun in January.  

Why teaching, really?  I have learned; I continue to learn.  In the hubris of my youth, all I imagined about this job was how great it will be to be the wise sage, fountain of all knowledge; I imagined all of the things I would impart to kids about math, about life.  But I learned; I continue to learn from my students.  I was blind to this for too many years, but I learned.  My students taught me patience, grit. . . resilience.  My students taught me kindness, compassion, humor, the beauty of youth.  My students showed me the richness, the diversity, the wonder that is God’s creation.  

Why math . . . REALLY?  I learned and perceived mathematics, through college, with a limited grasp of its beauty, its value, its purpose.  I perceived it as a bunch of algorithms that, once learned, can be applied to solve problems “in the real world” . . . someday. . . If you wanted to be an engineer.  But why teach the quadratic formula to everyone?  To Anyone?  Through teaching the subject, however, I discovered a beauty, an interconnectivity, a purpose that extends well beyond the pragmatic.  I discovered a way of thinking that has so much value beyond how it can be used for employment.  I discovered a facet of the human experience that is just as rich and profound as music art and language, just as rigorous as science, just as much a part of human experience as any other part of history.  I continue to teach math because I believe that it’s gotten a bad rap for far too long, and I long to share that with anyone who cares to listen.  

Why NDA, really?  I can’t get over how committed, caring, professional, hilarious, intelligent, how INTERESTING the faculty and staff of NDA are.  Teaching in an environment like this one has made me a better teacher, and working with the people at this fine institution has made me a better person. And I thank God for that.