Faculty Who Think Differently - Heather Ahern

Amy Dempster


At Carroll, our faculty think differently ... so they can give each child what they most need, ensuring every child has a clear path to unlocking their potential. This year, we are chatting with various teachers to uncover how they approach teaching and are making a difference in the lives of Carroll students.

Heather Ahern, Upper School Language Arts Teacher and Alumni Parent

Your son, Quinn, has dyslexia. Is there a family history?

It’s actually a really funny story. I started teaching at Landmark as a Special Education teacher in the early 90’s. I remember saying to my dad, “I think you’re dyslexic.” I noticed from certain things that he wrote and his life story. He struggled in school and I think probably presented the way that many of our students do. A few years ago, my dad sold the house that we grew up in and we found some old documents. One was a 1964 evaluation from Dr. Cole (one of the founders of Carroll School). It said he was obviously a bright kid but with a reading disability, how they referred to it then. As it turns out, he was 3 years too early for getting into Carroll.

How did you come to be a teacher at Carroll?

When I left Landmark School, I started the language-based program at Lynnfield Middle School. It was there that I received Orton-Gillingham training and I am grateful for that. After a couple of years, I joined the Commonwealth Learning Center in Needham as the assistant director. There, I had a great mentor who helped me find great opportunities, including becoming trained in the Project Read program. Then, I started a private practice where I did some reading and writing evaluations, private tutoring and I worked at the Learning Project part-time where I mostly consulted and supported teachers. During that time, I also trained teachers for the Department of Education in reading and phonics.

So you come to Carroll School with a wealth of experiences. What surprised you about being a teacher here?

I don’t think I expected to grow as much as I did as a teacher. The support of the administration and the culture here is one of understanding. I love being in a place where people are accepted. Carroll treats its faculty the way we treat the kids. We’re allowed to take risks and make mistakes. We’re supported in doing that and it makes us better at our job.

I’m better at taking care of the whole child than I was five years ago. Before, I was all about delivering the curriculum. I have a massive sense of urgency for what I need to accomplish with students. I’ve had to learn to balance that with building relationships and taking care of their social-emotional needs. I found that when I took the time to slow down, got to know my students on a deeper level and be vulnerable with them, everybody did better. We accomplished more. So that’s huge; I didn’t expect that.

You’ve been working in Carroll’s Upper School program for 5 years now. What makes the program unique?

The core of what makes us the Upper school is our philosophy and the way we work together. I love my colleagues. We are all quirky, idiosyncratic people - very different - and that’s what makes it work. We respect each other and we work well together. Nobody thinks they have all the answers. We’re all willing to share ideas and are open to other people’s suggestions. We’re all really in it for the kids. And if something isn’t working for a student, we all look at it differently, get suggestions, and do what works for the child. As a professional, I am grateful to have the team but also it was great to be on the receiving end of that as a parent.

I think teaching in a school like Carroll draws a special person. I thought I had a unique story, “I’m teaching at this school and my son goes to school here.” I’ve found there are plenty of people (teachers but also staff) here who have children who have already graduated, who currently attend Carroll, or whose children struggle because they learn differently. People are drawn here because we want to make the world a better place for these kids.

As a professional, do you feel supported in your craft?

People work incredibly hard here. Teachers give their heart and soul to this job. I’m grateful to Kurt Moellering (Head of Carroll’s Upper School). He’s aware of how much time, effort, and care we put into our craft and he shows his appreciation and is very supportive. We also support each other. The people I work with are not just my colleagues; they are my friends. We take good care of each other.

How would you describe the culture at the Upper School?

We give students more freedom here. We recognize that they’ll be entering high school and we want them to be able to make good decisions. So, for lunch and before school, we don’t confine the kids to one space. They can play basketball outside, use the soccer/lacrosse fields, eat outside on the picnic tables, or go to a classroom and meet with a teacher for extra help.

We have so many children who are coming from an experience where they’re not proud of their school history. They’ve struggled in school. We want them to come here and be proud of their school and proud of this space where they can make good decisions.

Watch a clip from Heather's interview ...



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