It is professors like Bryan Crandall, Ph.D. that students say is why they love learning.
“He has taught me how to think outside the box and learn how to engage all of my students,” Stefania Venderella ‘20 stated via electronic message. With a major in English concentrating on teacher education and minors in educational studies and psychology, Venderella’s time with Crandall has well prepared her to lead her own class one day.
“He has allowed me to learn how I can find connections with all of my students and build a successful classroom community…Dr. Crandall is a mentor to me and I continue to learn more and more from him and this program every year!”
By his own admission, Crandall’s love for teaching, writing and the connection between the two has been a constant since he himself was a student.
“I’ve always joked that I knew I was doomed to be a teacher while I was still in school,” Crandall said via email. “Often, in the margins of notebooks, I would doodle ideas and ways to make classes more interesting than they actually were. In my head, learning is pretty magical, but the majority of educators made it dull and painful.”
Crandall received his undergraduate degree in English literature at Binghamton University in upstate New York and went on to the University of Louisville to earn two Masters’ degrees, the second of which came through the Kentucky Institute of Education and Sustainable Development. He remained in Kentucky long enough to become a teacher at a Louisville public school in 1997, which he valued for its mission of “diversity, inclusivity and excellence.”
His time as an undergraduate and later as a teacher not only taught him the skills associated with his studies, but opened his eyes to the world beyond the United States. Crandall was mentored under scholar Carole Boyce Davies while studying abroad in London, learning from her what he termed were essential critical thinking skills. He received a Fulbright Memorial Scholarship to teach in Tokyo, Japan and during his later tenure in Kentucky, he participated in the school’s partnership with the Roskilde Lille Skole in Denmark.
He states that this time he spent in Kentucky was a “magical experience.”
“The state assessed students through portfolios, and writing across the curriculum in a variety of genres was the norm,” Crandall said. “For several years, my urban school students scored at the top of the state and a couple of times they were number one…the diversity of the student body made all of us better.”
The rewarding nature of Crandall’s experience could also be attributed to his introduction to the National Writing Project in 2002. He took part in the Louisville chapter that year, believing strongly in the project’s investment in strengthening writing skills in educators across the country.
“[The National Writing Project] recognizes that teachers are professionals, have expertise, and are best positioned to provide professional development for colleges. The teachers teaching teachers mantra works,” Crandall said.
Crandall is the current director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, which is one of 180 sites across the nation. He became director in 2011, the same year he was completing his dissertation at Syracuse University and became a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions and English here at Fairfield University. He began a tenure track in the GSEAP in 2013, and is currently an Associate Professor of English Education.
He says that much of the work he does with the Writing Project centers around teaching educators how to be better writers while also teaching them how to better communicate those skills to their students.
The Writing Project works specifically with Fairfield’s teaching and education Masters programs to give emerging teachers student-teaching opportunities and teach them skills to bring to their future classrooms. Crandall also spoke to the creation of summer programs for pre-college aged kids who wish to hone their own writing abilities.
Called the Young Adult Literacy labs, these summer camps for children grades third through twelfth have given students the chance to teach both teachers and their own peers.
“During the summer, teachers attending the institute for teaching writing have numerous opportunities to work with young people on a wide variety of genres, including Ubuntu Academy, our literacy program for immigrant and refugee youth,” Crandall said. “We have served 100s of teachers and 1,000s of kids as a result.”
Crandall’s research on immigrant and refugee youth was another area of study that emerged while working in Kentucky. He began volunteering with refugee relocation services in 1998 and witnessed firsthand the challenges refugees faced when entering the United States education system for the first time.
“I learned from my own students and volunteer work that the perseverance, dedication, drive, and hard work of immigrant and refugee youth are exceptional. Actually, they are inspirational,” Crandall said.
“That is why much of my research has turned to them. The most rewarding work I do is through working with them. They are the hope of what is possible. They are the vision of the dream.”
It is clear that his students have seen the direct effect of that experience in both his teaching and mentorship.
“Dr. Crandall is an absolute force…I consider myself extremely fortunate to have him as a mentor and a friend,” said Justin Wooley ‘20 over electronic message. Both he and Venderella have studied under Crandall as part of the Connecticut Writing Project.
“If I am being completely honest, I believe that what makes Bryan so extraordinary is the intense care that he has when attending to his students, work, and life. Ubuntu—the African philosophy of togetherness, community—is a large feature of Bryan’s way of being, and that’s what it is like working with him; it is a community, family.”
Just as his students have recognized the impact of Crandall’s teaching, so has he come to value what his students have taught him throughout his years of teaching.
“One hidden truth about teaching is that the students you teach that seem to be merely temporary, year to year, actually turn out to be a permanent fixture in your life,” Crandall said.
“It has been amazing to see my students grow up, enter the adult world, and experience rather incredible lives. It’s also great, time to time, to hear from this or that student with a memory they have of your teaching or a note about something you once said that stuck with them throughout their lives. Those connections – the human connections – are what I love most about teaching.”