Extraordinary teachers in an extraordinary school

On National Teacher Appreciation Day 2017, let’s honor just a few of the many outstanding current and former teachers at Notre Dame. We are republishing the following collection of articles that were culled primarily from interviews with a number of Notre Dame's many esteemed faculty members.
The conversations range from short video interviews and student memories to articles taken from Q&As. Find out why Notre Dame teachers are different — and why they make such an extraordinary commitment to education.

Hard work and art get together in one determined teacher

Teaching art to more than 12,000 students at five high schools, three colleges, and yes, one jail has solidified this 71-year-old artist’s reputation from Kalamazoo and Marquette to southeast Michigan.

Former Notre Dame teacher mounts 50-year retrospective of a career in education and art.

Kirby Smith “officially” retired from teaching nearly 10 years ago after finishing up a 14-year stint at Notre Dame Prep, his last full-time job. But his retirement has been nothing like what one would call taking it easy.

He’s currently teaching ceramics at St. Clair Community College in St. Clair, Mich., and has been super busy of late putting together a retrospective exhibition of 50 years of his art that will open May 2 at Studio 1219, a gallery located in Port Huron.

“It’s mostly ceramics,” Smith, 71, said, “but I’ve also got a few paintings in the exhibition as well.”

Read article. . .  

On a middle-school mission

During a recent school day at Notre Dame, middle-division students in Marisol Aguilar-Fernandez’s Spanish class were learning about—and experiencing—a common celebration in Galicia, a northwestern region of Spain, called ”Festival del Pulpo.” What many in the class probably didn’t know at first was that the main dish Spaniards consume during the celebration was octopus. 

“It is not uncommon for Ms. Aguilar to arrange a modified kitchen in her classroom, complete with traditional serving pieces and utensils, in order to share with her students some of the rich Spanish culture,” said Jill Mistretta, principal of Notre Dame’s middle division. “I never would have guessed our middle school students would be so willing to taste octopus. But they did and they even were asking for seconds!”   

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‘Unruffled’ and completely dedicated to the students

Longtime fixture on campus says Notre Dame always has taken pride in its academics.

Jerold McGhee, (a.k.a. Jerry) has been a quiet yet prominent fixture on campus since first coming to Notre Dame in 1999. He typically can be seen on the football field or in one of the two gymnasiums as part of his primary role as physical education teacher for the middle and upper divisions. He also can be found in a classroom on certain days of the week when he presides over health classes.

While he thoroughly enjoys his job, McGhee never loses focus on what Notre Dame is all about.

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Potatoes are the 'Maine' thing for retired teacher's family

Retired Notre Dame teacher still helps out on the family farm in New England.

Potatoes arrived in the pre-U.S. colonies in 1621 when the governor of Bermuda, Nathaniel Butler, sent two large cedar chests full of potatoes and other vegetables to governor Francis Wyatt of Virginia at Jamestown. The first permanent potato patches in North America were established in 1719, most likely near Londonderry, New Hampshire, by Scots-Irish immigrants. From there, the crop spread across the country, including due north to what is now the state of Maine, which has been growing potatoes for more than 200 years.

In recent years, Maine potato growers have produced between 1.5 to 2 billion pounds of potatoes annually. Included in that total are the 17 million pounds of potatoes grown by the family of longtime Notre Dame faculty member (now retired) Ken Parent, who said that there have been eight generations of Parents involved in the potato business.

“My father was the sixth generation,” he said. “My three brothers were the seventh, and now, my nephew, who currently is managing the farm, is the eighth.”

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From psych major to middle school

Notre Dame middle-school teacher finds her niche in working with 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

When Amanda Knapp, who currently teaches 8th-grade "Language A" and 6th-grade "Individuals and Societies" classes at Notre Dame’s middle division, was in the middle of her first year at Oakland University, she began to rethink her life-long goal of becoming a psychologist. Knapp, a 2000 Notre Dame Prep grad, took a couple of classes in psychology at O.U. in addition to the usual core classes, but quickly became disenchanted with her career goals.

“At the time, I was coaching a 5th- and 6th-grade cheer team at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Utica, Mich., and felt a real pull toward teaching,” said Knapp. “I also worked for the Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Department summer playground program around the same time and was drawn to working with children even more.”

So before she even started year-two of college, Knapp dropped her psychology major and went into elementary education. “I think it was when I started going into classrooms for field assignments that it really, really hit me that I was making the right decision.”

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Confidence booster


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.

Read article. . .

Why she loves teaching and why she loves teaching at Notre Dame

In this video, part of a series of videos on representatives of Notre Dame's exemplary faculty and staff, Kimberly Anderson, a Spanish teacher in the upper school and coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, talks about why she is a teacher and then why she loves teaching at Notre Dame.
Watch interview

In the right place. Third-grade teacher is where he belongs


Notre Dame teacher Bob Patterson says one of his dream jobs might be coaching alongside Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University. But this now twelve-year member of the NDPMA faculty—and coach—thinks teaching third graders is a privilege and can’t really picture himself doing anything else.

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Social studies teacher talks about why he teaches and why he teaches at Notre Dame


In the first of a series of videos on Notre Dame faculty members, upper-school social science teacher Dave Osiecki talks about why he became a teacher and—more importantly—why he teaches at Notre Dame.

Watch interview

One of a kind


Many-layered, textured, gruff, kind, stubborn, witty, hilarious. These among many other words are used when describing Conrad Vachon, the esteemed former English teacher from Notre Dame in Harper Woods. Vachon died 15 years ago this spring (May 11) at the age of 67. But his legacy and influence continue to resonate with all those Notre Dame men who were lucky enough to know him and to take a class taught by him.
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Fifth-grade teacher inspires as once he was inspired

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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.
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Teaching life lessons a big part of athletics


Notre Dame’s assistant athletic director Maureen Radulski says that among other things, playing sports builds character. In fact, she says that building character and helping to teach life’s lessons are some of the main things on which the school’s athletics department focuses.
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Carpe diem! Notre Dame English teacher seizes opportunity to inspire students


Anthony Butorac, a teacher at Notre Dame Prep and chair of the school’s English department, is living his “prep school” dream.
“As corny as it sounds, I always thought I’d like to teach literature in a prep school in that clichéd ‘Dead Poets Society’ kind of way,” Butorac says. “So far, it appears that everything has worked out as I envisioned. I’m really happy here at Notre Dame.”
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NDP teacher interested in how and why, not so much what


Notre Dame upper-school social studies and political science teacher Pete Riley thinks one of the most important parts of his job is making sure his students understand how and why, not just what they learn in the classroom. “To me education is more about the ‘process’ of learning than the results,” he says.
Which fits perfectly with Notre Dame’s education philosophy, particularly with its International Baccalaureate curriculum since a big part of this innovative program is concerned not just with “right” and “wrong,” but rather with the quality of justification and a balanced approach to knowledge.
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M_McGreevy_200pxNDMA gains after teacher loses battle with “Him”

Now in his second career, Notre Dame Marist Academy middle division religion teacher Mark McGreevy says it’s the best move he’s made after a 25-year first career as an architect. The Notre Dame High School (Harper Woods) alum credits his first visit as a parent of a prospective student and a losing battle with God as factors in his mid-life career switch and ultimately, his NDMA job. 

Read article. . .

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.