Notre Dame Marist Academy fifth-grade teacher Paul Frank became a teacher because of teachers. Two teachers specifically. The first was his own seventh-grade teacher. In an article originally published in the school newsletter "The Blarney Stone," Frank talks about his own elementary and secondary education and how that inspired him to become a teacher.
Frank had in his words a pretty horrible sixth-grade year at his elementary school back in small-town Wisconsin.
“My sixth-grade teacher was pretty demeaning and I lost a lot of self-confidence as a result,” he said. But his seventh-grade teacher was, according to Frank, the coolest teacher he’s ever had and he helped Frank in many ways—especially in the confidence department.
“Mr. Knollof was strict and demanding, but he really cared about his students. He helped me believe in myself and taught me to not be afraid to challenge myself in both academics and sports.”
The other teacher who inspired Frank was a child-development teacher in high school. “She told me that I had a heart for children and that I had the teaching mannerisms that could one day make a difference in the lives of children,” he said. “It wasn’t until later that I would realize what she meant. But her words sure stuck in my head.”
Now it’s Frank’s turn to inspire the newest generation of grade schoolers. Principal Diana Atkins says Frank is the type of teacher who in a very special way reaches every single student in his class. “He takes the time to get to know what motivates his students, and then uses that to challenge his students to get to the next level,” she said.
Atkins also notes that he is the most amazing history teacher. “He ignites excitement for the topics by telling stories that are not necessarily in the history books, but nonetheless fascinating. When listening to one of his lessons you never want it to end. Years later his students come back and always discuss their time in fifth grade, and how Paul’s energy and the skills he taught them are beneficial in things they are doing in their lives today.”
The energy Frank, 48, regularly brings to his students doesn’t end after the school day is done. He says his home life is as busy as his school life. He and his wife Jorja have a very active household to say the least. “I don’t think we’ve had a moment of quiet for a long, long time. We have three daughters: Meaghann, 21, Kaitlin, 16, and Annie, 6, and two boys: Ben, 15, and Will, 9. During the summer when schedules allow, you will find us all bike riding or spending the day out on the lake swimming and fishing.”
Now in his tenth year at Notre Dame, Frank, who also serves as the assistant principal of the lower division (and earned “teacher of the year” honors last year), graciously took a few precious minutes of his day to answer a number of questions from The Blarney Stone.
What was your first impression of Notre Dame Marist Academy upon arriving on campus?
I fell in love with the school the minute I walked in the building. I still remember walking into the office for my interview and feeling I was where I belonged. The school mission was evident in the administration and I could feel it walking through the halls and rooms.
Were you teaching elsewhere before coming to NDMA?
I taught for fifteen years in a Catholic school very similar to NDMA in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Since you’ve been here at this school, what do you see as the most significant changes to Notre Dame?
The year I started was the first year for the lower division. It was very cool being on the “ground floor” of the school. Fr. Leon had a vision for what the school could be and how it would be a vital part of the other two divisions. It was a growing process in the beginning for our division to gain the confidence of parents and the rest of the NDPMA family, and how we could play an important role in the long-term health of the school. With the leadership of Diana Atkins and dedicated, mission-driven teachers, the lower division has found its niche and Fr. Leon’s vision is becoming a reality. The fact that we will be moving over to Pontiac is proof of that.
So how do you feel about that move to Pontiac?
I am very excited about the move. The lower school has done well in Waterford, but actually being at the Pontiac campus will strengthen the three divisions and help enrollment when parents are able to see the whole “package” when they visit.
What do you think is the most important part of your teaching job?
As a teacher, I think the most important thing is to be a positive influence on children. I believe in the Marist way of building the spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects of a child. The students are the stars of our school, not the teachers.
What role do you think the classes you teach play in fulfilling the school’s mission?
I don’t just teach the mission in religion class. I try to weave it into every class and into everything I do.
Now back to your own “growing-up” days. Where did you spend your childhood?
I grew up in the small Wisconsin town of Grafton. I am not, however, a Packers fan! My dad is a Chicago Bears fan so all my brothers and I grew up that way. I went to St. Joseph Parish School in Grafton for kindergarten through eighth grade and then Grafton High School. Then it was on to the University of Wisconsin after which I taught 15 years in Sheboygan—also known as the “Bratwurst Capital of the World.”
What would you choose for a job if you weren’t a teacher or administrator?
I have thought about that at various times in my life. Each time I seem to come to the same answer. There is nothing I could do that would come close to teaching. I am blessed because I think I am doing what God has created me to do. Teaching fulfills all parts of my life. It allows me to pursue my passions in things like history and math. Every day is a new day and every situation a teaching moment. I may not have the bank account of some of my friends but I know I have an opportunity to change lives and make a difference. What person could ask for more?