Educator Spotlight: Patrick Allen
It’s hard to imagine Canton’s sixth-grade promotion ceremony (at least in pandemic-free times) without Patrick Allen, acoustic guitar in hand, celebrating and enhancing one of the most exciting nights his students experience as they head toward their secondary education.
Similarly, although less visible to parents, would be Allen’s impact on the Nature’s Classroom outdoor education trips, his steady leadership on display as kids rotate through activities and sometimes find multiple days away from home a little too much to bear.
But most of all, there’s the untold hours during more than 20 years teaching in a sixth-grade classroom at Canton Intermediate School – passing along knowledge, sharing untold laughs with students and taking the time to redirect their energies as they learned to test boundaries.
Recently, however, with mixed feelings that are oft hard to describe, Allen decided to retire from the Canton Public Schools.
Teaching wasn’t Allen’s first career – he previously worked 10 years in human resources – but he found purpose in the classroom.
“When I think about my life in human resources, I can explain to you what I did. I didn’t have passion for it really,” he said. “It was interesting and I think successful for me, but there’s something on the teaching side, it’s the people side, that’s so deep to me and so powerful I almost don’t know how to harness a description of it.”
This summer Allen made the difficult decision to retire from his Canton teaching role, as did his wife Krista, who spent a career helping special needs students, the last 15 years or so in the Avon school district. Most recently she worked as one-to-one paraeducator at Pine Grove School.
A myriad of factors played into the decision to retire.
Allen struggled a bit to put his decision into words, noting there were numerous factors, some of which were brought into sharper focus by the pandemic. It’s also a decision that felt strange because it involved so much self-reflection for a teacher, father and grandfather who is more used to thinking of others.
He distinctly remembers vowing to retire early after his days in human resources and seven people who had looked forward to retirement only to have their lives cut short by tragic illness or circumstance.
For one, Allen said his goal was to never give anything less than his best in the classroom.
“I really feel like in the last 22 years or so I’ve given it everything I’ve got,” he said. “I think the kids deserve that.”
Allen said he’s never regretted the time spent on teaching, but is also looking forward to so many other aspects of life. One is spending more time pursuing music. A multi-instrumentalist, Allen is perhaps best known for his role – primarily on guitar and vocals – for The Substitutes, a band that performs in various combinations, but includes Cherry Brook Primary School Principal Andy Robbin and CIS teacher Erik Perotti.
“I love writing music,” Allen said. “I love recording music and that’s as deep as teaching is to me. It’s sort of on par with that, but I haven’t been able to do it the way I want so there’s a piece of me missing in that respect.”
Allen’s also looking forward to such pursuits as traveling and honing his transcendental meditation practice.
And of course, the decision to retire from the Canton Public Schools will leave more time for family.
He and Krista, who were married in 1989 and live in Canton, have three children, and now two grandchildren.
Allen has several family members in the area, including a sister in Canton, a brother in Brooklyn, N.Y. and his parents, who live in Simsbury. Allen is looking forward to having more time to spend with multiple generations of family.
Allen also noted that he had taught the fathers of three of his most recent students, something that also got the wheels turning a little.
“It’s just idea that time’s running out a little bit and I want to see what else I can do and kind of tap into these other passions in my life,” Allen said.
At the same time, he hasn’t ruled out the idea of returning to the classroom on some level. The role of adjunct professor, for example, intrigues Allen – although such a pursuit might well come post-pandemic.
“I don’t really believe I’m walking away from teaching, I need to refresh things and step away a little bit,” he said.
Allen was born in Shoreham-by- Sea, England. The middle child of three he came to the United States in 1986 to attend college and do some traveling.
“My intention was to travel, see the country and go back to England and carry on with life,” Allen said.
But while working toward an organizational psychology degree at the University of New Haven, he took a psychology of aging class, where he met his future wife Krista, also a psychology student at the school.
Allen did return to England for a short time, but it wasn’t long before he was back in the United States, working in human resources at the University of Hartford.
“I loved human resources but I also realized that having spent 10 years there, I’d done pretty much everything there was to do in the world of human resources,” he said, adding that the next logical step seemed to be a corporate job in the field.
“I just knew deep down that was a mistake.”
Allen had also discovered that he loved the connections he established when involved in human resources training and began taking graduate- level education classes at the school and was immediately hooked.
In the fall of 1997, he ended up at Cherry Brook Primary School in Canton for a student teaching assignment.
“It was just one of those things. When I got into the classroom it confirmed what I felt back at the University of Hartford that this was the right thing to do, not so much logically because what I was doing wasn’t very logical – to give up human resources – with two kids at that time. It was just a gut feeling.”
As luck would have it, he was soon able to fill a combination paraeducator/tutor position at Canton Intermediate School. In May of 1998, a sixth-grade teacher left the school, and in the fall, he filled that role and also moved with the family to Canton, impressed by the town and its school system.
“It was just one of those lucky things in life,” Allen said. “I got into that job and I thought I was in heaven I just loved it.”
Early in his career, an administrator asked Allen a question about the extra hours teachers often spend outside the classroom.
It occurred to him that the approach was a bit like his grandfather and great uncle (on his dad’s side) had with their Methodist ministries in Ireland.
“I remember thinking … it’s not a job, it’s the life, it’s been that way since 1998 till now and I’ve just loved every minute of it.”
It’s difficult to say goodbye to a group of students each year, but he feels that fresh start each fall – and the chance to get to know a new group, kept things fresh.
“There’s a real emotional wrench to that – saying goodbye to a group of students you got to know and got close to over the year but then in September it refreshes itself so you don’t feel like you’re doing 20 years, it feels like 20 individual years.”
Allen, who was Canton’s teacher of the year in 2005, loved teaching the sixth-grade level, loving the kids’ sense of humor and his ability to redirect them when necessary
For Allen, one of the best parts of the teaching is running into his students years later. Often, they’ll mention something that impacted their lives greatly. It’s usually a surprise to Allen, a seemingly small moment, remark or gesture.
There’s no denying that education has become a bit more complicated in recent years, but for Allen those human connections mean everything.
“I think it’s understanding that each student is an individual person,” he said. “There’s really very little you can read in a book if anything, in my view, of how to reach that child on a personal level. You can certainly do it by numbers and test scores, but if you want to reach a person…. It’s instinct, it’s a feeling and it’s taking the time and taking the care to understand who that person is.”
In an effort to learn a little bit more about who Patrick Allen is, we asked him a few questions about his interests.
What was your inspiration to teach?
A: I have always been drawn to helping people from a very early age. Having spent 10 years working in human resources, I wanted something more deeply rewarding and fulfilling out of my work life. I studied teaching and worked full time for two years until I earned my teaching degree. Once I earned my education degree, I set out to try to inspire and motivate children to become caring, thoughtful happy young people with an ability to think critically and creatively. I wanted to do all I could to leave them better people than when I first met them.
My favorite part of teaching has always been the live interaction with the children I have taught. They can be funny and inspiring and made me laugh so often and always kept me feeling young and full of life.
What is your favorite food?
A: Any Indian food
What is your favorite season? :
A: Fall in the USA. Spring in England.
What is the best advice you ever received?
A: “Speak the truth with love.” I have always tried to live by that advice. I have taken it to mean that you treat others with kindness, compassion, empathy and honesty.
What tops your bucket list?
A: Traveling to India to continue my study of meditation.
What is your biggest adrenaline rush?
A: Standing on a shaking swing footbridge high above a ravine. I hate heights!
What do people not appreciate enough?
A: The beauty of the natural world we live in. Our lives tend to have us rushing from one thing to another at top speed. Because of this, I feel that we don’t have enough chances to stop all that and just take in the vastness and true amazement of our natural world.
What were some of the defining moments in your life?
A: • The birth of my children
• Live Aid 1985 (the immense power of human passions and actions).
• Becoming a grandfather
• The first day of having my own classroom as a teacher.
What are some of your hobbies?
A: • Music – playing, recording, writing, performing
• Road bike riding/touring
• Hiking, traveling, camping
• Practicing transcendental meditation
Do you have a dream dinner companion?
A: • All four Beatles
Remember me for?
A: Hard work and dedication and an ability to make a connection with the children I have taught over the years (I’m not sure that I know the answer. I’ll leave that up to the people I have met in my life.) VL