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Alumni Spotlight: Bryan Appel M.A. '24

This month's alumni spotlight from our Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program is Bryan Appel! Bryan graduated in May 2024 with his M.A. and is a kindergarten teacher in Baltimore City. Hear from Bryan below!
Bryan smiles with a green background, and his testimonial quote overlayed on the image

Why did you choose the CISJ program at Loyola? 

To have a teaching certificate requires a regular attainment of education credits. For many years, I was worried this would doom me to taking the typically meaningless courses offered on the latest trends in education, mindlessly going through the motions in order to get a passing grade, but not really learning or advancing my understanding of teaching, learning, or curriculum in anyway. And, most obviously, in all of these classes, credits, and conferences, no one ever talked about race. Or, if they did, it had a very Black History, Black Person of the Day feel to it, nothing of substance. As a white teacher in Baltimore City, to not be thinking about, reading about, reflecting on how the systems of America interact with race…is dangerous to say the least. 
In the Spring of 2019, I went to a conference about Teaching and Social Justice in Education which was fantastic. So many ideas that had been in my head were given names and context in the bigger picture. Race, along with gender, sexuality, class, were central to almost every session. On the way out, the Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice had a table and I figured that if the classes contained anything close to the conference, my teaching would greatly benefit from these credits rather than just checking them off a list. It was a little more money than I wanted to spend, but far surpassed the generic nature of most education programs.

Did you work while pursuing your degree? If so, how was your experience with work/life balance? 

I started the year we went into lockdown. I had two classes in person and then the remainder of my time was online. I was fortunate in that for one full year, as I worked towards completion, I was teaching at home and so the balance was pretty easy to maintain (no travel time, routines for working at home established). I finished out the program back in person teaching and also welcomed a third child into my family the year I did my capstone. There was definitely a time crunch at home and my Spring Break of 2023 wasn’t much of a break…but, for me, the work was the kind of work I enjoyed doing. I was reading, thinking, talking and writing about deconstructing the police and prison system and rebuilding a new system in its place and then connecting it to my daily work, how could I not enjoy it? 

What were some of your favorite aspects about pursuing a graduate degree at Loyola? 

The professors and the reading. I wasn’t a very productive student in my previous education worlds. At first, the readings were impossible for me to understand. The professors not only took the time to walk me (us) through these readings, they also never dumbed down the content. They allowed me to develop these skills that were required for higher academic content. Developing these skills allowed me to open up a world of richer and more meaningful content. 

What do you think sets Loyola apart from other universities that offer a similar program? 

I felt like I was actually learning. I have taken classes at other places before finding this program, undergrad and grad credits. I hated them. I don’t know how many times the work assigned felt like it was mimicking the work of elementary school. Did I actually make dioramas in college? Was I actually doing book reports on picture book authors? It always felt like time filler because there was nothing actually there. And, so seldom would they directly talk about race (or class, or gender, or sexuality, etc.). They were the equivalent to throwing spaghetti on a wall and seeing what sticks. In this program I was given the chance to push myself towards ideas and concepts beyond the simplistic realm in which we often position teaching and learning. I finally felt like the work I was doing was connected to the greater academic world, competing ideas, questions, and the like. I was given an opportunity to explore some pretty weighty, foundational ideas about what teaching and learning is, what it was, what it can be in ways that have altered my presence and identity in the classroom, in the school, and in my life as a parent.

How has your degree and experience at Loyola set you up for success in your career?

I wouldn’t say it has made teaching any easier, maybe it has even made it more challenging. However, the program gave me clarity of what I believe, a lens through which to see my work, concentrating who I am in the classroom into a much more specifically focused classroom presence. I would be miserable going into work every day, I believe, without this focus. The chaos of public institutions, perhaps purposefully un-funded for failure, can be very stressful. Allowing the context Loyola and this program gave me has structured this chaos in a way that allows me to ignore what needs to be ignored and drill into what needs to be drilled into. The work isn’t any easier, but it certainly is less stressful. 

How did your capstone experience shape you or prepare you for your career?

The capstone meant a great deal to me. I had all this information, ideas, theory in my head that needed sorted and put in its place.  I needed to take all that I had learned in my time at Loyola and figure out what I was going to do with it. During my time at Loyola I was introduced to Abolitionist Education (either directly in the readings assigned or the readings those readings led me to), the idea that we need to move, as a world, beyond police and prisons as a systemic response to the challenges we face. I wrote about creating and teaching in an Abolitionist Kindergarten. In writing the capstone, I was pushed to think through and explain this concept that radically changes a teacher’s entire presence in the contexts or the classroom and as a state representative. The capstone forced me to confront this as a concrete reality rather than simply an abstract idea. I am a better teacher for it and feel so connected to what I am doing every day in my classroom because of it. 

Head to our Instagram to hear more from Bryan!