Care comes before cosines

Longtime Notre Dame math teacher says he goes out of his way to show that his students are loved and cared for.

Notre Dame upper division math teacher Dan Staniszewski said he doesn't remember much about his first impressions of the school when he first arrived on campus. That might be because he was just a seventh grader then and a student in Notre Dame's middle division.   

"I really wasn't aware of much of what was going on about anything at the time," he said, which is probably not atypical for most 11 or 12 year olds. Since then, however, this 2002 NDP grad has been a constant presence on Notre Dame's Pontiac campus save for the four years he spent at Albion College.

He's now well into his 12th year of teaching math at his high school alma mater and he can't think of anything he'd rather be doing.

"Teaching was always an idea that I had, even when I was very young," said Staniszewski, who also holds an M.A. degree in math education from Wayne State University. "My mom became a teacher later in life and I think it was just something I always wanted to do. I went to college determined to be a chemistry teacher. However, after I took my first math class at Albion, I decided that math was the best fit for me and the rest is history."

Now he's working on making math a good fit for his own students. But it's not the most important aspect of his job. Far from it, actually.

"I really enjoy teaching math, imparting the knowledge, and teaching kids to be problem solvers," he said. But the relationships that I build with students in the classroom — and especially through Kairos — is so much more important and rewarding. The ability to show students that they are loved and cared for will almost always make more of a difference in their lives than learning about the quadratic formula."

He said those special bonds that he's created thus far with many former students are very special for him. 

"Some of these kids could not tell me how to solve a triangle using the law of cosines," said Staniszewski, who's a member of Notre Dame's Alumni Association board and also helps coach the school's football team. "But I guarantee that each of these kids knows that they were loved and have developed a stronger faith life through the work that I did, and that is so important to me."

One of Staniszewski's former teachers also knows how well he works with students.

"Dan is a man of remarkable character and a real model for our students," said Sharon Derico, who is the upper division's vice principal for academics and also Staniszewski's former English teacher. "I remember him as a reticent and determined student much the same as he is now. But his dedication toward his subject area and craft makes him well-respected by his students and peers. We're lucky to have earned the right to call him both an alum and a faculty member." 

As an alum and faculty member, Staniszewski also knows full well how Notre Dame's mission gets integrated into daily life on campus.

"I think the school mission is the most important part of my teaching here," he said. "Everyday, I look to see how I can help form good Christian people, upright citizens and academic scholars. I do my best to be an example of a Christian person in my everyday life, in my classroom and in my work with Kairos. Helping kids become upright citizens is the same thing. I do my best to be socially conscious, to teach kids to work hard and to be productive members of a community."

Lastly, he said, is the academic part of the mission. 

"I also do my best to teach a challenging, engaging but successful class," said Staniszewski, who lives in Lake Orion with his wife, Lauren, and daughter Cecilia. "Some of my classes, such as IB HL Math, will strongly challenge students to push their limits of problem-solving and mathematical understanding, while other classes, such as algebra and geometry, I teach to make sure students understand the core concepts and can apply them. But in every class, I try not to provide too much stress, while still maintaining a challenging environment. I think that's one of the biggest challenges of teaching that I am still trying to perfect."

One other thing that Staniszewski has been trying to perfect, he says, is his competitive running. In 2013, he started running triathlons and in 2015, he won the Clydesdale division of the Motor City Olympic Triathlon. In January, he and his wife, his sister, Katie '99, and her husband, Francisco, all ran in the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida.

So what else does this busy guy do when he's not inspiring students or running marathons?

"I enjoy woodworking, Star Wars movies and Marvel movies," he said. He also said that, God forbid, if he wasn't a teacher he might be working as a nurse, fireman or EMT. 

We're sensing a pattern here.


Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.
 
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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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