Upper division teacher and Wolverine fan says boosting student confidence a big part of his job.
When Notre Dame math and computer science teacher Daniel Chun was still at the University of Michigan, he started working for the Princeton Review, the well-known Framingham, Mass.-based private education and test-preparation organization, to help high school students with the alphabet-soup array of college admissions tests—ACT, SAT, GMAT, and LSAT—to name a few.
But after a number of years of “taking skills the students already had and translating them into useful test-taking techniques,” he wanted to do more.
“I started doing more and more one-on-one tutoring with academic subjects, particularly math and science,” he said, “and found that teaching real content and not just test-taking tricks was much more fulfilling for me.”
So after spending seven years at the Princeton Review, Chun decided to jump full time into teaching and hired on at Notre Dame in 2012.
“I was friends with two other teachers here, Brian Little and John Smith, for some time before I started at Notre Dame, so I had heard a lot about the school from them,” Chun said. “My first semester was kind of a blur, just trying my best to keep my head down and do my job, but I had a lot of great support from the other members in the math department as well as the vice principal at the time, Donna Kotzan.”
Making mistakes good
Now well into his fourth year at NDP, Chun, who graduated from U-M with a B.S. in math, is right where he belongs. Getting high school students through their math courses—and succeeding on the tests—is still an important part of his job, he acknowledges. But there is a much more important reason he does what he does.
“The most important part of my job now is helping kids gain confidence in their knowledge,” he said. “Most of math is recycled content. You learn something in algebra that comes back in geometry and trigonometry, or you learn something for one test that you use in a slightly different way on the next test. So, for the most part, I am there to just help the kids see how they can apply what they already know to a new situation.”
But Chun is a huge proponent of students participating in their own learning, and he is constantly encouraging them to be confident enough to volunteer answers or ask questions—and even to make mistakes.
“Lots of students are afraid of making mistakes, especially in front of their classmates,” he said. “But I try to help them see that making mistakes helps them to understand things better, and that making mistakes in class is normal and natural, and that it helps everyone learn together.”
Change also good
Even though Chun has only been on campus for about three-and-a-half years, he says a lot has changed during that time.
“I think the biggest change at the school since I’ve been here was the implementation of the one-to-one tablet program,” he said. “Between that and Haiku, there have been a lot of efforts made at Notre Dame to help students succeed in a more digital world, and it is great to see how students are taking advantage of it. My wife works at a public school that has been transitioning to one-to-one for a few years now, and seeing how smooth the transition has been at NDP in comparison to some of the issues that come up with her school is encouraging.”
He said that even in his math classes where tablets are not necessarily used as much as in other classes, it’s interesting to see how quickly the students have adapted in these last few years.
There’s also been much change for Chun personally since signing on at Notre Dame. In fact, he was married the weekend before classes started in August of 2012. He and his wife, Brandie, now have a daughter, Sophie, who turned one this past August, and was born on their wedding anniversary.
Patches on the sleeves
So when Chun is not in a Notre Dame classroom, what does he do for fun? "I really enjoy playing and watching sports, especially anything related to the University of Michigan.” He’s also coached football at the school’s middle division and bowling at the upper division, and when time allows, he says he loves watching movies.
And like most high school teachers at Notre Dame and elsewhere, Chun loves his job and says he is doing exactly what he wants to do career-wise.
But when asked what he might be doing if he wasn’t teaching?
“I don't really know; it takes a lot to keep me interested in doing something for any extended period of time, so it would have to be a job that involves working with people,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of different types of jobs in the past and have gotten bored pretty easily. Maybe a college professor, so I can wear those cool jackets with the patches on the sleeves.”
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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.