Chase After a Sense of Happiness: Dan Kotasek, Social Studies Teacher
Reprinted from Traditions, Summer 2019
August 7, 2019
Dan Kotasek, an avid reader, golfer, and self-described backyard sitter, has been a Social Studies teacher at Cretin-Derham Hall since 1999. He created the popular new AP Psychology class this year and is team-teaching Spectrum (Interdisciplinary Symposium). During his time at CDH, he has also coached Track and Field, Basketball, and Golf.
Why did you become an educator?
My journey began while searching for growth and giving back during my college years. I very much love and crave the interaction I have each day with students. This life I live is all in place because of my daily encounters with them. I spend my summers just waiting for that August return. I’ll continue doing this until that pleasure wears off.
You are known for how well you connect with students. What is the secret ‘sauce’ for relating to students today?
I believe this connection is based on the trust I place on them and in them. I hope there is a sense of structure and comfort in my classroom. I’m very supportive and understanding, yet very direct with my students.
You currently teach the new AP Psychology course and Spectrum (interdisciplinary course for seniors). What makes you passionate about these topics?
I have taught many classes during my run here at CDH. This year, creating our new AP Psych class has been outstanding, with students going after as much information as they can gather about the science of psychology. During my college years, I really enjoyed exploring the psychological makeup of individuals and the inner workings of ones mind. Now, watching our students drive towards a deeper meaning of the mind has been a wonderful aspect of this class.
I have taught Spectrum the last four years with Mark Syman, Mike Powers, and Nicole Spears. This class is all about justice and service with the focus on an abundance of challenging reads and discussions. This has really opened my mind for a better future. These students continue to grasp and seek a way that they can help make a difference as the year progresses.
We heard you tweet! Are you a big social media user?
A little background first — I started Twitter nine years ago as a means to communicate with my mother, as funny as that sounds. It has turned into a wonderful communication tool for me and a creative way for gathering useful information. I’m pretty active with what I believe are viable topics with an emphasis on what I hope are fantastic messages for those that come across my tweets. I close every night with a saying, which in fact has been heard by all of my students as they walk out the door at the end of the day: EVERYONE BE GOOD, DO GOOD, STAY OFF THE SAUCE.
How has your faith impact your role as an educator?
My faith has really developed here at CDH. We lost my dad unexpectedly in 2001. Being an active community member here at CDH really allowed me to heal. I’ve shared many a story of my dad with our students over the years. We talk directly about life in general with an emphasis on grief and loss. My strong commitment and beliefs have allowed for clearer direction.
What advice would you give a new teacher?
You will learn many things from each and every one of your students. Each of these students plays off of you, so relax and smile when you walk in each day. It is vital that you give all you can everyday. Keep in mind students are always listening and watching; they need you ALL IN.
How has the culture of the classroom changed over the years?
I’m not sure students are any different now then they were years ago. I still hold them accountable and I ask for a full effort each day. One thing that has remained consistent for me has been the comfortable feeling inside our walls.
What advice do you give your students about how to be successful?
Chase after a sense of happiness; create an individual in yourself that you would like to be around. Give to others when able, learn from others ALWAYS, and care for those that need caring. Make sure you miss people when they are gone, and be good to them when they are near.
How do we ensure the dignity of work is passed down to our students at CDH?
It is important as individuals that we make a difference for those around us, as we move forward in our daily lives. Work, relationships, family all go hand in hand. I attempt to stress for our students that there is an immense value in the care for others and finding a sense of happiness for themselves in their contributions and daily encounters.