Crescendo Smalls ’07 M’08 teaches Spanish at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn.
Teaching Spanish is more than just a job for him. “For me, Spanish is not just a language, it’s a part of my life,” he says. “Speaking Spanish and being immersed in the culture, and being able to use what I know to impact others and to bless others has been tremendous.”
Like Stephanie Gangemi, Smalls wanted to be a music major when he came to Wagner; but his First-Year Learning Community, which combined literary and linguistic studies in Spanish, led him in a new direction. While the Wagner choir gave him an outlet for his musical interests, he found himself more drawn to Spanish than to music theory. In education courses, he observed classrooms in New York City public schools, and began to envision himself as a teacher.
During his senior year, he spent a semester studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. It was his first time traveling abroad, and the experience capped off his studies and fueled a new sense of mission for him. “It opened the door for me to being global, being aware of what’s going on outside the U.S., and connecting with people, cultural connections,” he says.
Just as he learned at Wagner to use Spanish to connect culturally with others, he now teaches his students from that same mindset, integrating experiential learning outside of the classroom so that they can apply their Spanish skills to real-life situations.
“I tell my students, ‘I don’t care how much vocabulary you know, what you can do from a textbook, if you cannot connect with someone culturally, if you cannot converse with someone in the Spanish language, if you cannot use this language to make connections with people, then I failed you,” he says. “‘I’m giving you the tools to connect with other people across the globe.’”
Smalls is still active in music as well, especially in his church. He regularly volunteers with Christian student groups at Wagner, such as Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In 2015, he combined his gifts in Spanish and music by teaching workshops on music and worship at a Christian music camp in Spain — just one of several trips abroad he has taken since he was bitten by the traveling bug as a Wagner senior.
“Being [at Wagner] as a language major was a launching pad,” Smalls says. “It really opened me up to the world and to being a global citizen, and taking all that I’ve learned and sharing it with my students.”