Tremendous need for special educators in the U.S. 

As a child, East Tennessee State University senior Ashlyn Mills had little interest in teaching.

“School was a terrible experience for me, which led to me completing high school online. During that time, I volunteered at the elementary school my mother worked at,” said Mills. “She recommended I volunteer in the special education classroom her friend taught, and I reluctantly did. I fell in love instantly.”

Mills is one of the many who found a passion working with those with a variety of intellectual, developmental, learning, emotional and physical disabilities and sensory impairments.

And in many areas of the United States, the need for such educators is startling: the U.S. Bureau of Labor projects more than 33,000 openings each year in the coming decade. 

“I regularly receive calls from area school system administrators,” said Dr. John Wheeler, interim chair of the Special Education Program at ETSU. “They need professionals trained to teach special education.”

For Mills, the department is well preparing her for a future career. For one, she’s spent the last two years working with Access ETSU, a program that has provided critical support to young adults with intellectual disabilities. Access ETSU is nationally renowned and recently earned a $400,000 grant aimed at continuing its mission of serving the university and region. 

Over the summer, Mills also spent three weeks teaching at a special education school in Vietnam. 

“I was able to do some class projects in Vietnam, which gave me a new perspective and unique challenges that will prepare me for working in a school,” she said. “There are also plenty of required field placement observations and student teaching hours. These give several opportunities to experience the characteristics of many different classrooms and allow you to see techniques and strategies you learn about in action.”

Such experiences match the university’s commitment to providing a hands-on learning approach, helping move students from enrolled to employed

Wheeler encouraged current and potential students to consider a degree in special education, an area of national need where program graduates garner 100 percent employability with options for career advancement in a field where one person can have an impact, assisting with meaningful educational and quality of life outcomes.

Learn more about the program here


East Tennessee State University was founded in 1911 with a singular mission: to improve the quality of life for people in the region and beyond. Through its world-class health sciences programs and interprofessional approach to health care education, ETSU is a highly respected leader in rural health research and practices. The university also boasts nationally ranked programs in the arts, technology, computing, and media studies. ETSU serves approximately 14,000 students each year and is ranked among the top 10 percent of colleges in the nation for students graduating with the least amount of debt.



Stay in Touch

Follow ETSU on Social