BY VANESSA KELLY // MAY 15, 2012 //
Professor Sanford Kaye, better known as Sandy, is a tall man with wispy white hair. On campus, he’s always dressed in a suit and is almost always sporting a smile.
Kaye is something of an institution at Curry, where he has taught English and various writing courses for the past 33 years. The 75-year-old is also a part-time professor at the Harvard University Extension School, where he teaches advanced memoir writing. He is the father of three grown children and lives close to campus, in Dedham.
According to Kaye, he has it all. But it wasn’t easy getting it.
Even though he’s a writer and an avid reader, Kaye says he couldn’t spell very well in his younger years and was a somewhat slow reader throughout his life. He had a tendency to reverse some letters while reading, and discovered during his first semester at Curry that he had learning disabilities.
In his younger years, people often told him he was dumb or wasn’t living up to his potential. Kaye says he initially wanted to be a scientist, but discovered his strengths laid elsewhere.
“I would do the work, but couldn’t get the results,” he says, noting that he eventually found enjoyment in creative writing. “I realized I can’t be a scientist if I stink at science.”
Kaye continued to work hard in school and managed to win acceptance into Harvard University. He graduated as an English major and later earned a master’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley.
Kaye is a wonderful writer. He has written two books that he uses in his classes and recently finished writing two novels that he hopes to get published. One is a collection of short stories, while the other is a fictional work titled “Who’s Little Girl Are You.” Kaye says it took him four years to write the book, which is about a girl who is supposed to live a certain life, but wants to be someone totally different. The moral, Kaye explains, is to be yourself and to have confidence in who you are.
That’s basically Kaye’s motto in life. He says it’s what makes teaching and working with young people so fascinating to him.
“Every human being I have met has been interesting to me,” says Kaye, who spent 12 years as an English professor at MIT in Cambridge before joining Curry. “Beyond the rules and problems, people are themselves and most faculty miss how interesting each kid is.”
Kaye says he enjoys working at Curry more than at Harvard because the students at Harvard know they are smart. In comparison, Curry students don’t think they are smart, and so their stories are more fascinating, he says.
Kaye’s classes are set up so that everyone, including the professor, learns from each other. Many students say he is not very strict, especially when it comes to homework (there is very little), tests and assignment due dates. His classes—he teaches Writing Workshop I and II, Writing for the Professions, and the Longer Prose Narrative, among other courses—are based on discussions, rather than a singular lecture. Kaye says he wants his students to get involved in class and listen to each other.
According to students, it’s clear he wants to listen too.
“Sandy Kaye has to be one of the only professors I have ever had that was beyond compassionate, whether it was in the class setting or out,” says Makayla Smith, a freshman nursing major who is currently taking his Intensive Writing Workshop II class. “I love his teaching methods and the fact he lets us rant as well as completely express ourselves in the way we write.”
To Kaye, part of teaching is enabling students to figure out who they are and who they hope to become. After 33 years at Curry, he has literally written the book on it.