Our English Teacher Murdered. A Lesson Learned?

Hi everyone.

It was no easy feat going to Zumba this morning listening to “I’m Sexy and I know it” but I helped myself along the way by imagining my H.S. teacher, Karyn Kay, next to me smiling and dancing. I read that she took Zumba and had told her Zumba teacher that her son was having anger problems.

Karyn Kay was one of my favorite teachers in High School. She was beaten to death last night. By her son.

This devastating news affects me on so many levels: As a mother, as the mother of a child with special needs, as a student, as a teacher, and as an advocate.

Ms. Kay was my creative writing teacher at LaGuardia H.S. of Music and the Arts in NY around 1985. She was cool. She was very small and slight in stature and had short 80s styled hair with big earrings. She wore hip clothes and was always smiling.

I remember it feeling like a privilege to be in her class, even then. I will never forget how she would read an anonymous student’s story  some weeks and I will never forget the pride I felt the day she chose mine. I wasn’t a writer but she made me feel like I was. She had us write in a journal and hand in the journal periodically. If something was too private, she told us to fold over the top of the page and she would not read it. I believe to this day that she did not read it.

She did, however, contact parents when she read alarming content in our stories that might indicate that her student was in trouble. Ironic, really, after reading that her neighbors overheard her violent fights in her NYC apartment and talked to the doormen about it. Did anyone ever call child welfare? The police? Did Ms. Kay tell anyone besides her Zumba teacher that her son was violent or that they were having problems at that dangerous a level?

Did stigma  or other obstacles keep Ms. Kay from getting help for herself and her son?   Did anyone try to intervene to help?

Ms. Kay helped students for nearly thirty years creatively express themselves so that they could be more artistic, confident, comfortable, successful people in their future. She went beyond what many educators do and she got involved if she saw a problem.  She saw art and creativity in every student and we all truly felt it.

It pains me to think that her death might have been avoided by people intervening in the appropriate ways at the appropriate times.

Today I think of those who have helped me along my journey and who I have helped . Sometimes we don’t need to wait to be asked to help. I will try to remember this.





11 Responses

  1. Alma, you have my deepest condolences. I think that we are all a little shut off from each other, at times to our detriment. I hope that by sharing this piece, others will be motivated to get involved, when they witness potential abuse or dangerous/escalating situations, or at the very least call the authorities.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful memory of your teacher. I also told students to fold over or dog-ear pages if something was too private in a journal. I also told them to point out items to which they wanted me to pay special attention.

    Domestic violence comes in many forms. I hope Karyn felt supported by those around her, even if the end to her journey was horrible. She does live on in the inspiration she shared – and the memories she helped to create.

  3. As a teacher (of special needs students,) I know how sometimes I wonder if I am making any kind of impact. Your story shows that good teachers can be influential to the youngsters in front of them. I am terribly sorry for your loss. May she live on in your memories and in the memories of all she taught and cared for.

  4. It is a wonderful thing when a teacher can influence a student so strongly. I am sure Ms. Kay would be proud of you today, because you are now, indeed, a writer. I am sorry for your loss, Alma & to all that she has touched.

  5. Hi Alma. I was so sorry to read about this tragedy. She sounded like a very special person and I’m sure her memory will live on with all those she influenced and touched. Again, so, so sorry.

  6. Alma, I’m so sorry. I was saddened by the news when I read about it and much more so now. Kay sounds like she was a wonderful person and teacher who influenced many in her life.

    You are 100% right, people don’t need to ask for help and sadly some never do. It’s a real shame and tragedy the neighbors didn’t reach out to her or public services, and instead chose to speak to the doorman. My mom was physically abused by my dad during their entire marriage. Not one neighbor or family member ever offered to help, despite the fact that they could hear and see the abuse.

    People are too worried to approach a difficult conversation and too concerned with embarrassing themselves or the other person. But we need to get over that because domestic violence is something nobody should ignore. Call the police and afterwards, if you know your neighbor stop by and talk to them. I’ve done it and it’s not as uncomfortable as you may think if you offer a non-judgmental ear. It’s a matter of safety and compassion.

    Again, I’m so sorry for your loss.

  7. Thanks, Ladies. It is still so hard to even think about but I just read that they are planning for excellent counseling services at the school when the kids return from Spring Break on Monday. I cannot imagine how her current students must be feeling.

  8. Perla, I am so sorry to hear that you experienced the violence first hand. You are absolutely right about stepping in. Sometimes the most uncomfortable moments in life have the most impact. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Kristin, I did read that article today and it does seem to get worse. That boy will have to live with this forever. Tragic.

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