The power of the mission

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Kyle Lilek teaches English and IB-Theory of Knowledge in Notre Dame’s upper division.

A long time ago, Kyle Lilek gave up on a career as a Power Ranger. Now a teacher in Notre Dame’s upper division, he’s impressed with how the entire NDPMA teaching community embraces its mission. He also says he’s never had a bad day at Notre Dame “that I didn’t cause myself.”

When Notre Dame upper division English and IB-Theory of Knowledge teacher Kyle Lilek first got on campus as a substitute teacher in 2012, one of the first of many things that impressed him about the school was how the other teachers embraced the institution’s mission. He also was more than a little nervous initially.

“My sister, Clare, graduated from NDP, but I did not,” said Lilek, who grew up in Naperville, Illinois, and attended a Catholic high school in Minnesota. “As a result, when I first started working at NDP, the discipline instilled in me by my Catholic education warred with the anxiety of starting my career, and for a while I awkwardly referred to all staff by their titles, i.e., ‘mister,’ ‘missus,’ etc. However, I knew that I wanted to teach full time at Notre Dame very early on. I totally fell in love with the mission of the school and how the staff seemed to effortlessly instill it in everything they did.”

Just woke up one day and wanted to be a teacher

“What impressed me the most back then about Notre Dame and still does to this day is how naturally the mission is implemented into the school through a living theology and faith, ethics through action, and education through mutual respect. It makes me really proud to be part of this community.”

Lilek’s journey to becoming part of the Notre Dame community — and in fact becoming a teacher at all — began after he graduated from Michigan State University in 2008 with a degree in English and a minor in film studies. Many teachers will tell you that they are either inspired by one of their own teachers or love their subject and want to share it with others. But for Lilek. . .?

“I’m neither. Call it divine inspiration or grogginess, but I pretty much just woke up one day and thought I could teach,” he said.

He then soon began the teaching program at Oakland University, which among its requirements mandated 40 hours of working with the age group each grad student intended to teach. That led to a stint as a youth leader at St. Andrew in Rochester Hills.

“I contacted the head of the program at St. Andrew and was up front with him about only needing 40 hours,” he said. “But I stayed there for five years.”

Lilek is with his sister, Clare, who graduated from Notre Dame Prep in 2010.

While teaching is his true passion, the first job Lilek applied for at Notre Dame, however, wasn’t technically for a teaching spot.

“I interviewed at Notre Dame in 2012 for a position in campus ministry, but did not get the job,” recalled Lilek. Nevertheless, I was still looking to get my foot in the door, so I name-dropped my sister, Clare, who was in NDP’s Class of 2010, and got on the substitute teacher list. A day or two later, I was offered the position of ‘building sub’ and I accepted. The following year, principal Fr. Joe [Hindelang, s.m.] asked me to take over the yearbook class in addition to remaining the building sub.”

At the end of his second year as the building sub and yearbook class teacher, Lilek thought it was time to go bigger and he approached Fr. Joe to interview for a full-time teaching position.

“Fr. Joe laughed at the idea of me interviewing after what was essentially a two-year, on-the-job interview. NDP is my first real job and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve never had a bad day at NDP that I didn’t cause myself.”

Search for irony

When asked what he thinks are the most important things about doing his job well at Notre Dame, near the top of his list is having a “nonsensical” sense of humor, which will surprise no one he’s taught so far at NDP.

“I can do anything as long as I can laugh at the absurdity of my life,” he said. “In my lifelong search for irony, I now live it. I hate waking up early and I’m terrified of public speaking. . .so therefore I’m a teacher! All you can do is laugh and go about life one day at a time. My sense of humor has served me better in the classroom than almost anything else.”

After Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., decided to ’semi-retire’ as head of school and teacher of the Theory of Knowledge class (he is now NDPMA’s corporate president), Lilek picked up TOK.

“I’ve loved Theory of Knowledge since the first time I subbed for Fr. Leon back when I was the building sub,” he said. “It was unlike any high school class I’d ever experienced. My first impression of the class was closer to a combination of a college-level class and a book club, but instead of analyzing literary subtext, you geek out on knowledge.”

Lilek loves his job at Notre Dame and his dog, O’Reilly.

He said the atmosphere of the class and relationship between the students and teacher take on a completely different tone than most other classes.

“I may be the teacher, but everyone is a learner in that class, including and especially me,” he said. “I learn something new with every class. I always tell my students that my primary goal in TOK is not to teach them something, but instead to put them in situations where they are forced to develop their own thinking, knowledge and opinions — and then articulate them. I consider it a big win in TOK when students get so invested in whatever we’re discussing that they continue to talk about it in other classes, lunch or at home.”

Power Ranger

So it seems that Lilek, who also is the girls golf coach at Notre Dame, is perfectly placed in a job that feeds both his senses of irony and humor as well as as a lifelong desire to learn something new every day. But what if perchance he was not a teacher — what does he think he’d be doing with his adult life?

“When I was little I wanted to be a Power Ranger,” he said, “but then my parents told me that I could never be one because they aren’t real. It was heartbreaking. Growing up I was very capricious regarding a possible future career. It’s not that being a teacher never crossed my mind when I was young, but I was very immature. So I never gave it any serious consideration. Now that I’m here, I could not consider doing anything else. I love being part of this school and its community!”


Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school’s upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation’s best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame’s middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate “World Schools.” NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.

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