“I’m Lucky to Have 450 Children”

At a chapel service last week, longtime EHS science teacher and crew coach Dr. Colleen Krivacek gave an emotional talk to the student body, which includes her children, Owen ’20 and Olivia ’23. She spoke about her teaching career and how she has balanced her love for her children with her love for her students, whom she calls her “other family.”
The text of her talk is below. You can also watch it on LocalLive (starts at 13:55).

I love my children — completely and equally — more than words could possibly express. I love them unconditionally, in my bones, and with my soul. If you ask either of them who my favorite is, they would each name themselves (although possibly after the dogs), and this is because I tell them, individually and constantly, that they each ARE my favorite. And neither of them is wrong.

Regardless of what happens this school year — it will be my perfect year. The year that I have looked forward to since they were born, and that they have dreaded since they realized it could happen. The one year that all three of us are together at the same school.

Growing up, I never imagined that I would be a teacher. I was going to be a doctor. An M.D., not a Ph.D. However, it was not to be. When I was a senior in college, I applied to eight medical schools. I was rejected from nine medical schools, but that is a story for another time.

After all that rejection, I didn’t really know what to do, so I applied to graduate school. I taught the entire seven years I was in grad school, when most of my fellow students only taught a few semesters. I loved teaching from the start, but was not convinced it was the gig for me.

After I received my Ph.D., I did postdoctoral research in radiation oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. I was there when I married my husband, the amazing and tolerant “Mr. Dr. K,” and became pregnant. My boss expressed concern that I would fall the way of many other women in science once they became mothers, but I said NOT THIS GIRL. Then, Owen was born, and he was so sweet and chubby and he smelled so good, and I swore I would never leave his side. So I quit and became a full-time mom.

After two years of nonstop Owen, I thought: I need a job. And that’s when it finally hit me that maybe I should give teaching another go. Part of what drew me back to teaching was thinking about some of the teachers that I had while I attended boarding school.

When I started boarding school, I was painfully shy. I never spoke. I tried to be invisible, but a 14-year-old, 6-foot freshman with a perm is pretty hard to miss. It was my teachers there who brought me out of my shell. Once I found people who truly cared about what I had to say, it turned out that I had a lot I wanted to say.

One of my favorite teachers was my freshman English teacher, Mr. Lamar. I have no memory of what we learned about that year, but I do remember what I learned about myself in his class. He never let me hide, pushed me to form my own opinions, and to think not for a grade but for myself. When I think about the kind of teacher I want to be, Mr. Lamar is the image that comes to mind. At my 30-year high school reunion, we invited him to join us at our class dinner. I sat next to him, and was able to thank him for being the driving force behind this life that I love.

And I do love this life. There are the obvious perks — I live on a beautiful campus, don’t have to worry about food, take fun trips. But what I love most about this life is sitting here in front of me today. I love my students. I love teaching you about science, that moment when you “get it,” taking my advisory out for late-night snacks, cheering at your games, watching you on stage. I love it when you call me and ask “Dr. K, do you have time to talk?” I love being there when you need me, because I remember how Mr. Lamar and my other teachers made me feel just by being there. When I became a boarding school teacher, that was all I wanted: to make at least one of you feel as cared for as my teachers did for me.

However, what I didn’t realize was that this is entirely different when you are a boarding school teacher who is also a parent. Part of being there for you, my students, means that often, I am not there for my children. It was really hard when they were little, all the missed events, the missed bedtimes. Sometimes I would not see them while they were awake for two or three days straight. I’ll never forget the way my heart broke when sweet 4-year-old Olivia innocently said, “It’s OK, Mommy, I know your crew girls are more important” when I was telling her I would miss her soccer game for a regatta AGAIN. Seeing first-grade Owen’s face fall when I said I couldn’t volunteer in his classroom the way the other moms did. I thought it would be easier as they got older, but it’s not. I missed it when Olivia won the 7th grade science fair because I had dorm duty. I miss watching Owen play baseball here because I have crew practice.

But for all the times I said no to my children, I was able to say yes to you. And I know how Mr. Lamar felt when I thanked him for inspiring me all those years ago, because I’ve had many “thank yous” of my own, some of which I carried with me, and every one of which I save to read again and again. There are notes from students I had 10 years ago, and from students sitting in this room. One of my favorites is this plaque one of my advisory groups gave me that says “Family” on it. You are my other family. I treasure all of these because they help to make saying no to my children worth the sacrifice. No, I sometimes couldn’t be there for them. Because instead, I was there for you.

Now, I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty. Not at all. I’m saying this because I actually hope that someday you have the same dilemma that I do. I hope that you put all of yourself into everything you do. You are as much a part of me as Owen and Olivia are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I tried a life without teaching, and it just didn’t work. I was incomplete. The joy I experience from teaching is something I hope you find in the future, and it gives me the strength and energy to be the best mother I can be. I can’t do it without you, I can’t do it without them, and I definitely couldn’t do it without Mr. Dr. K. The level of support and understanding he has given me over the years can’t be measured.

So now, I have some “thank yous” of my own. Thank you again, Mr. Lamar, for showing me the effect a good teacher can have on the life of his student. Thank you to my wonderful husband, who is probably the one who’s most neglected. Thank you to my students, my advisees, my teams. For 10 months out of the year, I’m lucky to have 450 children instead of just two. And lastly, thank you to Owen and Olivia, for putting up with all of the “no’s,” for saying you understood even when you didn’t, and for finally bringing both sides of my world together in this place. I love you both more than life.

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