Notre Dame science teacher, now in his 11th year on campus, says the strong sense of family and caring for students is what impresses him most about the school.
When Notre Dame upper-division science teacher Brian Little graduated from the University of Michigan in 2006, the job market for teachers was less than ideal. He said it seemed like for every job opening in the metro Detroit area, there were 100 applicants. Having only student-teaching experience on his résumé didn't help much either. But he kept looking and he also kept a job at the university to pay the bills.
"Then my future mother-in-law, who at the time was a local high school chemistry teacher, found out about the ND Prep job through a local group of chemistry teachers that had reached out to see if she knew anybody looking to teach high school science," Little said. "It kind of felt like divine intervention when I got the job because this also was where my wife, Maureen (Convery) '04 and her three younger siblings went to school."
But it likely was more motherly intervention than divine intervention that led Little to want to become a teacher in the first place. That's because he grew up watching how fulfilling the job seemed to be for his mother and he ultimately figured that what was good for mom would also be good for son.
"I became a teacher at first because my mom was a teacher," he said. "I saw her come home very night and it was very clear to me that she was really happy about her job. Even though I knew there were some days that were better than others for her, especially teaching middle school math, but in general, she always seemed happy and pleased. She was willing to stay late and help students, and her telling me about witnessing those 'ah-ha' moments while working with the kids made becoming a teacher an easy decision for me. I wanted to be like her."
Little also said he didn't realize until later in life how much his teaching job allowed for the joy he took in showing people his extreme enthusiasm for the outdoors, and for rocks, minerals, fossils, and environmental sciences in general.
"I wanted that passion I had to be infectious toward students," he said. "I wanted them to care about our planet as much as I did — and in the process, if I could get one student to major in geology or Earth sciences, then I felt like that was a win! All joking aside, however, I thought, what better way to influence youth with what I felt so deeply and passionately about then teaching! I was not at all interested in a 9-5 desk job. I just really like interacting with people of all ages."
Family and caring
When he first started at NDPMA in the fall of 2008, Little was struck with the very obvious welcoming and positive atmosphere all over campus.
"The first impression I felt was that there was such a strong sense of family and caring," he recalled. "From the time I met with Mrs. Pasko, to my interview with Fr. Joe and Mrs. Wylie (retired), I felt that the staff really cared about the school and its students. Right away, it felt like this is where I belonged. The facilities were gorgeous, everything seemed pristine, and the school's academics, of course, spoke for itself."
Little also notes that during his time at Notre Dame, the school has continued to grow and improve.
"In my 11 years thus far, I have seen numerous changes," he said. "The overhaul of the media center, getting away from a rolling cart laptops, additional collaborative space for teachers and students alike, but mostly because I am lucky and fortunate enough now to be located in a room in the new science, art and technology wing."
He's also witnessed the football field get new field turf, the softball/baseball fields get new dugouts and artificial turf as well, a state-of-the-art weight room, sand volleyball courts, 1:1 tablet implementation, and countless other changes as well.
"Yes, I'm only talking about facilities now, but these changes have nonetheless brought about a positive attitude on campus and has allowed us as a staff to see not only where we've been, but also to continue to look forward to even more positive changes in the future," he said.
As far as his students, Little is super clear about what he sees as the most important aspect of his job teaching young men and women who, he says, can spot a phony a mile away.
"Connections," he said, "being real, and showing the students who you really are. Basically, it means having organic, non-force-fed conversations about academics or non-academics, and the relationships that are formed as a result. This is what is most important to me. I place a high premium on learning, obviously, but I also like to show students other parts of my life and personality. And, on the other side of the coin, I'm always very interested in their lives outside the walls of NDP as well."
"With the revival of Detroit in the last decade or so, with activities and restaurants popping up, we love to explore the city in many different ways, including on our bikes," he said. "We've made it a goal of ours to constantly bike different parts of the city and check out new establishments, enjoy the old homes and architecture of neighborhoods like Boston Edison, bike along the riverfront, hang out in Corktown, and attend sporting events like the Tigers."
Daughter loves school in the LD
He also continues a love affair with his university, which, coincidentally is where he met Maureen, who's currently a teacher at International Academy West in White Lake Township.
"We attend football and basketball games in Ann Arbor when time allows, but we're big foodies as well," he said. "We love to just stroll around the college campus, meet with friends who still live there, and enjoy a great dinner at many of our favorite restaurants, some of which are a little bit nicer than what we remembered form our early 20s."
Meanwhile, back on the Notre Dame campus, Little's daughter, Charlotte, is his constant companion to and from NDPMA on their trips from home in Commerce Township. That's because she is currently attending kindergarten in the lower division.
"We love that school," he said. "We feel the teachers are great, knowledgeable, warm and inviting. Charlotte always talks to me on the ride home about how much she loves school. It's a great sign and reinforces what a fostering environment it is. And she continues to make lasting relationships with her classmates and teachers."
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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