Student Story: Kevin Cryan | Teachers College Columbia University

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Student Story: M.A. Social Studies Student, Kevin Cryan, and His Spark for Teaching

It began in the classroom. When Kevin Cryan was in fifth grade, his teacher could have called in a substitute to teach the lesson for her, but instead, she asked Kevin.

“She said that I knew more,” recalls Kevin. “I guess you could call that my spark. I love doing it. It’s what makes me happy.”

The spark can be felt even when simply conversing with Kevin. He speaks about becoming a teacher with conviction. “I love History and Social Studies. That’s where my heart is. I’ve always been good at it. In ninth grade all of my friends would meet in the library. It was supposed to be a study group, but it ended up being little lectures. That’s the happiest that I am, in helping people understand History and Social Studies, so why not follow it?”

After completing his third semester of the Master’s Program in Teaching of Social Studies, Kevin  graduated this summer and already has a teaching position lined up in California at a small private school in Palm Springs. There, he will teach U.S. History, Middle School Global Studies, and World History in High School. “One of the things that really drew me is they have a Mock Trial team that’s quite good. “I did it all throughout college. I was pretty good at it, and they wanted someone to run their team.”

Kevin applied to Teachers College during his senior year at Johns Hopkins University where he double majored in History and Africana Studies. He knew then that he wanted to be a teacher and pursued every opportunity that came his way. He tutored, shadowed established teachers, and worked at educational non-governmental organizations around the world.

One such NGO was Starfish International in the Gambia that sponsors girls education, where he served as a Math tutor for several summers. He expanded his interest in Africa by participating in a study abroad semester in Senegal. While there, he worked with Imagination Africa. “That was wonderful. They had a traveling children’s museum full of math games. They would travel from school to school with a caravan of games,” he said.

He admits that although some might say he has a natural ability to teach others, teaching as a profession comes with it’s difficulties. Having others around him with a similar passion for teaching and History, however, has made his experience attainable.

“One of the things I love the most [about the program] has to be the cohort model [made up of] 30 odd people that I’ve relied on consistently since I got here,” said Kevin. “We all take virtually the same classes. We all have one class that we take as a big group, it’s called Social Inquiry: Central Park. It was wonderful to have everybody in one big room talking to each other.”

Whether he and his fellow students are having difficulty at their student teaching placements or personal problems, they can confide in each other. “It’s really been the greatest support system that I could have had,” he added.

For his first student teaching placement, Kevin taught at The James Baldwin School, a non-traditional high school in Manhattan. “James Baldwin is not tethered to the Regents Curriculum, so I got to teach a very inquiry-based class. It was called Abolition and Social Change. It’s more of a question of how does change happen?” he asked. “Students looked at Black Lives Matter, they looked at the Abolition Movement, they looked at the American Revolution. They tried to say things like, ‘I think change happens from activists being relentless. I think change happens from people who can’t take it any longer.’ They explored these questions.”

In the Spring semester, Kevin experienced a more traditional style of curriculum at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, where students learn the Regents Curriculum. “That was really nice because you walk in and you’re treated like you are their teacher. Conceptually, it was the best preparation I could possibly have for my next year in school — somebody saying, ‘You make all the decisions and these are your kids, so don’t screw them up too bad.’”

Now that he has had an opportunity to teach in two different student teaching placements, Kevin believes his entire approach to teaching has changed. “I think it’s made me a much more empathetic person when it comes to students. When a student doesn’t turn in their homework, I think Teachers College has taught me and really ingrained in me the sense to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “There are a lot of things that we as teachers can do to create more inclusive environments for students.”

The spark that sent Kevin around the world to engage with a diverse range of students is not only natural ability. It seems to fuel an enduring curiosity with the world and people around him. “Really, I’m a teacher because fundamentally, this is what I’m happy doing. Teachers College only affirmed that.”

Picture of Nori KatoNori Kato is a Staff Writer and Social Media Coordinator for the Department of Arts and Humanities. She is also a graduate of the International Educational Development program at Teachers College.