Faculty Friday: Dan Nolan

Each school year, the faculty at Nichols School provide tremendous guidance and encouragement to help their students learn and grow. Our faculty members are empowered to craft the curriculum as they see fit, to make learning relevant and rewarding for every child.
The Faculty Friday series shines the spotlight on the outstanding teachers of Nichols School, digs into the work they do to support our students and our community, and showcases a different side of these familiar faces.
As the nation recognizes 20 years since the events of September 11, 2001, Middle School history teacher Dan Nolan recently shared his perspective on the events of that day in a column with The Buffalo News. Here, Mr. Nolan expands on the impact of 9/11 in the classroom and what he hopes this generation of students remembers about that day.
How long have you taught at Nichols School for?
I began teaching at Nichols in 2000, when the Middle School was located on Nottingham Terrace.
Tell us about your connections to 9/11 and why that was such a noteworthy moment in history for you.
My father was an ironworker in New York City in the early 1970s and worked on the construction of the Twin Towers. My brother, Erick, is an NYPD Sergeant, who worked at Ground Zero post-9/11. I grew up in Huntington, Long Island and had several classmates who died in the 9/11 attacks.  
9/11 was a noteworthy event because it shattered our collective belief that the U.S. was immune from the terrorism that was more common in Israel and other parts of the world at the time. The heroism displayed by New York City firefighters, police officers and others reflected our nation at its best and should never be forgotten.
As a history teacher, what was it like teaching in the aftermath of those events?
It was difficult teaching following the 9/11 attacks because of the images that were played over and over on the nightly news. Some of my students had relatives or family friends who were impacted by the attacks. I had to be sensitive to all of this as a history teacher in the aftermath of 9/11.
Most of my Middle School students had limited knowledge about the Middle East. They also knew very little about the role of the U.S. and other Western nations in the history of the Middle East. In response, I developed a research project in 2001 related to the region to address this knowledge gap.        
How did 9/11 shape changes in the history curriculum in your classroom and across Nichols?
9/11 had a significant impact on the curriculum at the Middle School. We revised the eighth-grade curriculum so our students would have more exposure to world history, including the history and culture of the Middle East.
I think 9/11 motivated our school to promote empathy for other cultures and to make our students more aware of their role in the world as global citizens.   
Why is it important for students to study the events surrounding 9/11?
9/11 showcased American resilience and serves as a reminder to students that we are at our best when we are united. We need to get back to that place as we face other challenges today, including the COVID-19 pandemic.  
It’s also important to study 9/11 because we continue to feel the impact of that day. Thousands of Americans and our allies were killed and wounded as part of the war on terrorism over the last two decades. Our students need to learn about the sacrifices men and women from all branches of the U.S. military have made since that day to keep us safe from terrorist attacks.
Finally, our students need to understand the dangers posed by extreme ideologies, whether they are rooted in religion or politics.       
What stands out to you that makes the Nichols Middle School experience special?
The personal relationships that faculty in particular develop with our students, families, colleagues and all members of our school community.  The Middle School is truly a special place.   
Why do you enjoy teaching?
I enjoy teaching because I like working with young people. History teachers have endless opportunities to tell stories about the past to get students interested in history. There’s no better feeling for me than engaging a student’s interest in history.
At its core, history revolves around stories. I became interested in history by listening to my father’s stories about his service in the Marines and the history of the Marine Corps in general. 
What do you like most about Nichols School?
It’s a pleasure working with so many kind, smart and funny people on a daily basis.