Twenty-year veteran science teacher Carolyn Kielma has been named the 2023 Connecticut Teacher of the Year. The announcement came this morning at Bristol Eastern High School, where Kielma has taught biology for the last 14 years and has been hailed as the backbone of the school’s college preparatory program, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), which helps hundreds of students—many of whom are immigrants, English learners, and/or first-generation college students—gain entry into scores of universities around the country.
“The teaching profession needs to look more like the students in this room,” Kielma said. “We need you to be representatives of this career so that you can spark curiosity and inspire the future of our great state and country. We need you—people of various ethnicities, identities, orientation, physical abilities, languages, immigration statuses, and…” in a nod to her own blue-and-purple fauxhawk, “hair color!”
Attributing her success as an educator to her love of teaching and her students, she received resounding applause from her students, who rose to their feet and answered, “We all love you!”
“I would not be the teacher I am today without my coworkers,” Kielma added, thanking fellow educators, paraeducators, and counselors who have collaborated with her on her craft. “I am so excited to have the opportunity as Connecticut Teacher of the Year to learn even more from educators across the state and the nation.”
“Carolyn is a shining example of how teachers across the state connect with their students and why those connections matter,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “She has described these relationships as her greatest career reward—a feeling that every educator can relate to. Not only is she a role model for students who may not imagine themselves in STEM careers, but she also provides opportunities for them to step into that role themselves; through her STEM Mondays program, high school students lead science, technology, engineering, and math activities for the younger grades. Many of her students will be the first in their families to pursue a college education, and that is thanks in large part to her support and commitment. We are proud to congratulate Carolyn as well as all our exemplary educators around the state making a difference every day.”
Describing her as a friend, colleague, an “incredible and passionate teacher,” and, in her students’ words, a “rock star educator,” BEHS Principal Michael Higgins recognized Kielma as someone who makes students feel something special in her classroom.
“Aside from being a science content specialist, it’s the passion with which she presents the content that helps students learn and acquire skills and knowledge,” he said. “And going beyond science, it’s the genuine care she shows for all of her students that makes them want to be present and learn from bell to bell, day after day. They learn how to be collaborative, empathetic, well-rounded, and independent thinkers.” Higgins also recognized Kielma’s “mama-bear care for her students” that makes her classroom a safe, welcoming space.
AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel noted, “Educators want students to be successful, both in and outside the classroom, and nobody strives for that or demonstrates that better than Carolyn. She exemplifies excellence in our profession, and our members couldn’t be prouder of her well-deserved recognition.”
Praise from officials, others
In a surprise visit to Bristol Eastern High School this morning, where the announcement was made before a schoolwide assembly, Governor Ned Lamont congratulated Kielma and extended props to educators all across the state.
“Connecticut has the best public school teachers of any state in the nation,” he said, “and there are so many exemplary teachers in our state we need to recognize for their service to our schools and our students.”
“Our schools continue to thrive due to the heart and commitment of our teachers,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Catherine Carbone, who also thanked teachers’ unions for schools’ ability to thrive.
Dr. David Bosso, president of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council and 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, called Kielma “another remarkable representative of the teachers of Connecticut and of our profession as a whole,” adding, “It is abundantly evident how much of a positive impact she has on her school community and the difference she makes in the lives of her students.”
Addressing Kielma at the assembly, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes emphasized, “It’s clear that not only do you love this profession, but you love your students. When you walk into the classroom, no one expects to get an award for what you do. You close the door, and you teach. You love your students, and you do what you do every day. So when you are recognized for the work, it means that, by extension, your students are recognized. Their stories become part of this narrative.”