ETSU training leaders in special education

Published 4:29 pm Monday, December 4, 2023

With national headlines about children with special needs being left behind, special education instructors are needed now perhaps more than ever.

And East Tennessee State University is preparing graduates well for such a career.

“I was lucky to participate in many campus-related service organizations like POP Arts and Access ETSU that serve students with exceptionalities,” said Cameron Phillips, a special education teacher at Dobyns-Bennett High School. “This real-world experience of working with these individuals is unmatched.”

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For Phillips, a peer mentoring program called BUDS, short for Buddies Understanding Different Students, proved life-changing. As a senior at Dobyns-Bennett – the same place where he now teaches – he joined the group, falling in love with helping students.

As a college student, he found the university’s special education program notable for its hands-on approach.

“ETSU’s program was helpful in many ways,” he said. “The professors in the special education department are phenomenal.”

For Dr. John Wheeler, the department’s interim chair, ETSU is an incredible place to learn and train.

“We have world-class faculty and a student-centered learning community. Our program graduates have many career options with room for advancement,” he said. “Our department is committed to making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities and in the support and success of our students.”

Students in the program have considerable opportunities for hands-on learning, including potentially working with Access ETSU, a program that offers critical support to young adults with intellectual disabilities.

“We put a premium on hands-on learning, a reality that really helps our graduates,” said Wheeler. “At the master’s level, the department offers competitive stipends and tuition remission.”

For Phillips, a 2021 graduate of ETSU, the training he received is paying off.

“I hope my students will leave my classroom feeling more independent and more confident in themselves as self-advocates. Working with young adults on functional life and job skills is so critical, but if there’s one thing I’d want for them to learn, it’s self-advocacy,” he said. “As we continue to strive for a more inclusive world, students having this skill is imperative. Expressing your needs and wants is something that all people, regardless of ability, must be able to do.”