January 26, 2023
Update: Carolyn has been named one of five finalists for the 2023 National Teacher of the Year Award. The nation’s top teacher will be announced in the spring.
What keeps Carolyn Kuhr ’98 Kielma coming back to teaching year after year is not the biology content she teaches, but the connections she shares with her students.
Kielma was named Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year by Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut State Department of Education. She teaches biology and biotechnology and forensics at Bristol Eastern High School.
“I am elated and honored to represent my students and my city,” Kielma said. “The longer the dust settles, the more overwhelmed with gratitude I am. So many former students, colleagues and parents are reaching out to congratulate me and wish me luck. I had no idea how much I was able to impact my community.”
Growing up, Kielma said she was a curious child with an early passion for learning. Upon graduating from Susquehanna University, she worked several concurrent jobs while saving up to continue her education at graduate school — which she did, graduating in 2002 with a Master of Education from the University of New Haven.
“After my first few years in the profession, I discovered that learning science is not truly the goal for my students,” Kielma said. “I now believe teaching is not only about the content but about helping youth become better humans. I strive to be the type of teacher that I needed in my adolescent years — the trusted adult that students can come to when they need help, whether inside or outside the classroom.”
Now 20 years into her career, Kielma said she still gets excited when chatting with her current students about the research opportunities they could have if they find mentors like the ones she had at Susquehanna, including Jack Holt, professor of biology; Peggy Peeler, Charles B. Degenstein professor of biology; Tom Peeler, associate professor emeritus of biology; and David Richard, presidential professor of biology.
“I will never forget being able to keep frog hearts beating in culture on a petri dish during cell biology lab and trudging through the waters collecting samples from the Susquehanna River during limnology,” she said. “They supported me by believing in me, even when I didn’t. That’s one of the most important gifts I can give my current students too.”
Kielma also believes in students she’s never met — those at Susquehanna who are just on the precipice of beginning their own careers in teaching.
“I think the greatest advice I can offer is to be patient with yourself — honing a craft like education takes time. Lean into the educators in your building; within your school will be a group of highly educated, motivated and courageous professionals who understand the power of lifelong learning. Trust in them and trust in yourself,” Kielma said. “Remember to stay positive and do not get caught up in negativity because you are making a difference, even if it is with one student at a time.”