Afghanistan veteran enjoys teaching career


Two young brothers halfway around the world provided the inspiration for Matthew Patterson to begin a teaching career.

Rashad, 11, and his brother Walee 9, befriended Patterson in Kabul, Afghanistan while Patterson was stationed in the war-torn country as a Corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The brothers and Patterson became close as they shared bread during patrol days and learned about each other’s cultures and customs.

“It was a really rewarding experience for me,” Patterson says. “I loved it. I’d meet the kids and we’d sit and talk. It was great.”

Huron Heights teacher Matthew Patterson holds a trumpet in his music class last week. (Kiel Edge photo)

Patterson was a music major at Queen’s University in Kingston when he decided to enlist. He joined the Armed Forces Sept. 10, 2001, and quickly saw his role of peacekeeper changed to more aggressive fighting.

His Regiment’s tour of duty included time in Southwest Asia and stops in the Afghani cities of Kabul and Kandahar. Despite the negative image many have of Canada’s involvement in the country, Patterson said he saw many positives during his time overseas.

“You can see little things,” he says. “When we first got there, many houses (in Kabul) didn’t have any power. When we were leaving, there was lots of construction and hydro (had arrived).”

Patterson also mentioned the introduction of large factories creating Western goods, like Coca-Cola, in the country, a sign of forward progress.

The dismissal of the Taliban regime also brought improvements to the lives of Rashad and Walee – who now plan on studying to be a doctor and a lawyer.

“(Going to Afghanistan) was important to me,” Patterson says. “I had to see it to try and understand what was happening.”

The Durham native returned from his tour and enrolled in teacher’s college in 2006. He graduated in 2007 and spent last year teaching at an English-language school in Mexico and said the years spent travelling the globe have helped him be a better teacher.

“When you see all these different places you get an understanding of a lot of different cultures,” he says. “It gives you a better appreciation of things and it helps you in a positive way.”

With five months of the year under his belt, Patterson has formed a solid bond with his students. In addition to teaching classes he also runs three bands – including the school’s jazz ensemble – and is often at school for more than 12 hours a day.

He’s still an active member of the Canadian Armed Forces, but is in the process of getting out of the military. He promised his wife he would do only one tour of duty and says he’s happy with his current career choice.

“If I didn’t like (working the additional hours), I wouldn’t do it,” he says.

Patterson is not shy about his experiences in Afghanistan. If students have questions about his mission, or the things he learned, he will share information and engage in discussions.

Some details of his experience are left out from classroom discussions, but he says he enjoys the interaction with students and the mature level of conversation they bring forward.

Patterson says today’s young people are more knowledgeable about the world and especially combat situations than ever before. The increasing popularity of video games and news television has become key ways for today’s youth to gather information.

“I’ll answer the questions (the students) ask because I think it’s important they hear what is going on,” Patterson says. “They aren’t immune to these things.”

Moving to Kincardine has been a positive experience, Patterson says. He has been warmly welcomed by the community as well as his colleagues at Huron Heights. His wife is currently studying to become a doctor and he says he’d like to stay in the area once she has graduated.

He says the different cultures present in Kincardine make his job even more interesting.

Patterson’s passion has been music since he was a young child. He says teaching music has proven to be more interesting than expected and it remains a uniquely rewarding experience. After years of helping the young people in other countries, Kincardine’s youth can look forward to enjoying his efforts a little closer to home.