Why I became a teacher

I meet my best friend in Grade 3.
Her name was Patty; she had a gerbil and lived in a BIG house.
I had my first sleep over at her house. We whispered stories all night. We wrote notes all day in class.
We finished elementary school and moved on to high school together.

High school was a Catholic all-girls school: uniforms, nuns, and the whole deal. We had chapel on Tuesday mornings and “study hall” on Wednesday. Mother Johnson gave us the ins and outs of setting a table, writing thank you notes and how to make conversation in any situation.
We led sheltered lives. OK. Let’s be serious, VERY sheltered lives. We went to church, confession, study hall, and spent our days with nuns.
In grade 9 some of us starting hanging out with boys from the public school: “bad boys.” How cliché. I know. It was our rebellion to the strict dress code (no make up, jewelry, or rolled sleeves) and knees together world (the phrase repeated daily).


On a morning in May of Grade 11, Patty was fatally shot, once through her heart, at close range by her then estranged boyfriend in the basement of her BIG house.

We all knew things were not right with Danny. We all saw many significant signs. Patty herself knew things had got beyond what she could deal with. We all felt extremely uncomfortable with what we saw and Patty had shared with us.

In our tightly controlled, mandated and safe world there was no one to tell. No one. 
No one we trusted or who was open to talking to us at school, or home, as people.

I am sorry. So sorry I did not tell someone what I saw, what I knew. How scared Patty was. How unwell and threatening Danny had become. I will forever be full of heatfelt regret, Patty.

Looking back, I cannot identify one person I could have talked to.


We all have events that define us and who we become. This defined me. Still defines me.
I left high school disillusioned.

The tools I needed to navigate the most important challenge of my life thus far had been missing (and arguably none of us are ready for such a tragedy). School failed not for lack of trying; it failed in providing any real, meaningful points of connection for me, for Patty, for all of us.

Eventually this pulled me. I wanted to connect to kids. Kids who needed to talk and to feel supported. Kids who felt lost, overwhelmed or unsure about what they were feeling, seeing, or hearing. I wanted to be a person they could talk to or in a small way feel connected to.

I wanted to be there if and when someone needed that someone to talk to. I hoped to connect to young people…that I once was…wondering who can I talk to? 

I wanted them to see themselves as a person before they saw themselves as a student. I wanted them to feel connected to me as a person before they saw me as “a teacher.”

I became a teacher to give my heart, slightly broken, but ready to hear and hold. 

I became a teacher to redeem myself; for wanting to follow my instinct and for not giving voice to what I knew was wrong.


I don’t talk about Patty. I have not shared her story in my adult life. I still meet her in my dreams. 

I dreamt of Patty last night. I woke up today knowing it was time to give voice to her story…

I love you Patty. 

15 thoughts on “Why I became a teacher

  1. Carolyn, your students are lucky to have you in their lives. Your ability to care is enormous and this tragic life experience has only given you more empathy for those who need someone to listen.

  2. Sitting here stunned. From your title I was expecting… something else.

    Twenty minutes ago I was reflecting on the question of what makes an ethical school (as part of an online philosophy course — long story) and thought I was done for the night.

    You have given me much to think about.

    And… your willingness to be vulnerable challenges me to write some stories that I have been reluctant to share.

    Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this story. Relationships matter. We need to remember this. Our students need to know we are there for them. Not just for biology, not just for science, but for anything that matters to them. Thank you for reminding me of this.

  4. Thanks for sharing the powerful story, which is your life. How truly blessed your students are, that you chose to teach to be the difference for them. God bless

  5. Oh Carolyn, such deep pain. I am so sorry to hear all this. Glad to know it made all the difference for you to want to connect with your students – just to be there for them as people. Wow. what a story.

    • I know it is cliche, but every cloud has it’s lining. Loss although painful gives us insight into what really matters. I am grateful for the insight this tragedy afforded me and still does.
      Thank you Sheila for your empathy.

  6. Many of us have stories as to how our life’s path led us to a career in teaching. Yours is a powerful one. Thank you for sharing it and allow it to touch others.

    • That’s it exactly…we all have stories that connect us and allow us to see each other in a different light. I know for me hearing stories from others helps connect me back to my own personal story. Sometimes it takes a bit a bravery to tell but always feels better when set free.

  7. Ouch… that this inspired you to become a teacher, Patty’s death was not in vain. Thank you for sharing. This is what matters in the grand scheme of things.
    I teach in a Catholic boys school. “Tuck in your shirt” is our mantra. Still a few priests around, yet so many sharing and caring ears and hearts. Hopefully we are connecting with our “Patty’s” and even our “Danny’s”.

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