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Sweta Patel's author photo.

Sweta Patel

Sweta Patel teaches high schoolers who face challenges including chronic absences and substance use. She has a master’s degree in English education from Florida State University. Connecting with and re-engaging students who have experienced school failure brings her joy. She hopes Rory’s story will surprise and touch readers the same way it did her students. She lives in Rochester, Minnesota, with her husband and two children. Should’ve Been Dead is her first book.

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My Story

I started teaching at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center in 2009. Our students come to our high school if they meet certain criteria, including chronic absences, substance use, and being behind in credits. I've taught English, Reading, Personal Finance, College Prep, and Photography over the years. 

When I began my weekly interviews with Rory in the fall of 2021, I was drowning in the challenges of an alternative high school teacher’s life: Giving instructions while some students were on their phones and others rolled in late. Students claiming they were tired during work time and would just do the assignment tomorrow. One student asking to use the bathroom and returning twenty-five minutes later. If I pushed too hard, they might shut down or stop coming altogether, and I couldn’t help an absent student. 

I was walking on eggshells around everyone’s needs, often feeling disappointed to be working harder than the students. I questioned what many teachers do multiple times a year, sometimes even in a single school day: was I making any difference at all? That’s when a student yelled out, “Shut up, bitch!” 

I shared the latest hit with Rory. His response sunk deep:

Well, no shit. Wow? What do you want me to say? That’s Nathan. He’s teaching more patience than any other student. If we give up on them this quick, where else will these kids go? And Nathan may never make it. He may not change, but as the adults, we have to be able to look each other in the eye and say we tried—really tried. He’s a kid who needs us to love him the most. That doesn’t mean pointing out his defects and everything he did wrong this week. 

If Rory’s anything, it’s direct. As I met with him to learn his story, I didn’t know just how much of a mentor he’d become to me. I took his messages to heart and brought them into the classroom with me.

The result? That year, I had the best relationships with students in my nearly fifteen years of teaching. I found purpose again in my work and a sense of calm and connectedness in my personal life too. Since completing this book, I've moved into a new role at the Rochester ALC: Community School Site Coordinator. I'm responsible for developing and sustaining community partnerships. 

My hope is to connect readers to Rory's story and hope they walk away with messages that personally impact them too, whether that's related to addiction and recovery, living with cancer, forming connections with others, or rethinking priorities. 


 Let's connect.

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