Steven Kroll: Fanning a Spark | Teachers College Columbia University

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Steven Kroll: Fanning a Spark

Steven Kroll: Fanning a Spark
By Patricia Lamiell

Steven Kroll, a first-year Master’s student in the Teaching of English program, took the round-about way to graduate school, via community college and construction work. “If you looked at my high school [records] and my first year in college,” he says, “I shouldn’t be at TC. I wasn’t the stellar student -- frankly, I was just indifferent.”

Things changed for Kroll when, as high school senior in Mattituck, New York, on the far east end of Long Island, he was invited to take an advanced placement course in English by a teacher who saw his potential. And although it took him another 10 years to get to TC, that teacher, Tom Brennan, changed his life. “He really showed me how studying could be fun,” Kroll says, “and how literature can be more than just reading books.”

Kroll went to SUNY Cobleskill College straight out of high school. Still lacking direction or much enthusiasm, he switched majors several times and eventually dropped out to go to work as a carpenter (he worked on a guest house on Long Island for the sculptor Richard Serra). After a few years of that, he realized he had more scholarly aspirations. He took a few night classes at Suffolk County Community College, and in one--an introductory literature course--he read Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “I fell in love,” he recalls. “I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ” Kroll stuck with it this time, majored in English and graduated from Stony Brook University with a 4.0 average. “I think that English literature is really what inspired me and helped me to move forward.”

Wanting to fire up high school students as disaffected as he had been, Kroll applied to several graduate schools of education, and Teachers College was the first and best to accept him. He took a room in Harlem and entered TC this fall. Now he’s working hard, not with a hammer, but with an open mind. “One of the reasons I came to TC was because of the professors, who are respected in their fields and are learned, and I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from them,” Kroll says.

Eventually, he would like to pursue a doctorate in English literature or education administration. But first he wants to teach in New York City, which, with its urban schools, he calls the “educational battle line” of the country.

“I think being in New York will give me the opportunities and the challenge to try to make a difference, to try to help students who may be the same student that I was when I was in high school—students who don’t really see the benefits of an education,” Kroll says. “I think I’ll have more of a chance to make a difference here than anywhere else.”

Published Monday, Oct. 10, 2011