College of Education
In Special Education, Dyar says ‘the positives outweigh the negatives’
Despite the challenges that come with teaching special education, Andrea Dyar says the positives far outweigh the negatives. She is energized by the love she receives from her students and when a student grasps a skill she teaches, it makes her day.
As a student at Belton-Honea Path High School, Andrea loved mathematics and originally thought she would like to go into electrical engineering. Then during her senior year, an opportunity to peer tutor a special education class at an area middle school opened her eyes and her heart for children with special needs. She changed course, decided to enter special education instead, and enrolled at Anderson University.
In Andrea’s fourth year of teaching special education, Powdersville Middle School named her their 2023 Teacher of the Year. In the midst of teacher shortages, especially in special education, Andrea feels that the support she’s gotten from her Anderson University professors, in addition to her colleagues at Powdersville Middle, have made a huge difference.
How did you discover AU?
I graduated from BHP (Belton-Honea Path) High School. I got used to that small, family type environment and when I toured AU I just got that sense of community and just having people there that truly cared about you as a person and not just as a number, because especially in special ed our class sizes are small. We were able to have so many great discussions that pertain to what we were seeing in our practicals and clinicals. It just made it so much more real-life—teaching and situations. I just loved that small community feel of Anderson University. All of the professors there are wonderful.
What are some ways you feel the Anderson University College of Education supported you?
I feel like Anderson University fully prepared me to be where I am, so I went through and graduated in 2019, right before COVID. My first year of teaching was the COVID year where we went out on Friday the 13th and didn’t go back until the following year. That was hard, but I definitely feel like from AU they were just teaching me to be flexible and to be able for me to think on my feet and adapt to my students’ needs. I had to do a total 180 degree shift to be able to teach virtually and come up with things my kids could do at home when we weren’t in the classroom. Luckily our district really prioritized getting kids back into the classroom and so we were able to go back the following year with a bunch of protocols, but being in person makes a huge difference, especially in special education.
Tell me about some of your hands-on experiences as an Anderson University student.
One thing I absolutely loved about AU’s education program is that we got to start going into classrooms our sophomore year, whether it was a 10 hour placement, a 30 hour placement—just getting to go in and see those classrooms makes such a difference.
I also got to do an emotional behavior disorder placement that really prepared me to deal with behaviors that I see in my classes, and then for my student teaching, which was my pre-clinical and clinical experience, I had the opportunity to stay at the same school for the whole year. I got to be at Tanglewood Middle School, so I got to be there from the start of school to the end of school with the same kids. Just being able to form those bonds, through the whole year process that oftentimes you don’t get to see in other programs that are around here, it made a huge difference to be able to do that.
I actually got to have a student teacher from AU for the whole year this year in my classroom. It was wonderful to get to see the process, from my perspective and knowing what I went through and got to see what she went through as well.
Tell me about your Teacher of the Year honor.
Admin sent out an email asking for all of the teachers to nominate one teacher they would like and then from there, the top three teachers had been nominated. They had been voted on. Actually me and my co-teacher were nominated and then another seventh-grade teacher. And so from there, I got picked out of the three and I’m so thankful for that. Of course this is only my fourth year of teaching and just being able to be seen by my school family was just phenomenal, because that means my kids are being seen and just that inclusive environment is so important for them. It’s just amazing.
How did you become interested in special education?
That’s actually kind of a funny story. In my senior year of high school I was planning to come to Anderson University and do applied mathematics with the intent to go into electrical engineering. I had actually done the Project Lead the Way program my whole time in high school. My senior year of high school, I had a free period and got the opportunity to go to our local middle school and peer tutor in the special needs class. After doing that for about half a year, in March of my senior year I completely changed from engineering. I committed to go into AU for education because just being in there, the experience just made me absolutely fall in love with it.
It’s a total 180 but I’m still doing math, I still get to teach math and life skills to my students, so I still have my love of math in there, but I chose being able to teach it instead of applying it in engineering.
What especially appealed to you about special education?
What really made me love special education is just the kids. They are just so amazingly inclusive on their own. I just wanted to be able to advocate for them and for everybody to see how amazing they are. So often in special ed, the classes are separate and not totally seen in the school as much as they could be. And so that was one of my huge philosophies—that I wanted to make sure that when I had my own classroom I let people see my students for how wonderfully made and unique they are. That’s been where I’ve gone with my teaching, just to make sure that my kids are seen for just how unique and exceptional they are.
What are some of the joys and challenges of your job?
I teach in a self contained class. My students are sixth, seventh and eighth graders, but cognitively and academically we’re working on kind of like a kindergarten to third grade level of academic skills with them. I specifically teach them math and life skills. From that, we’re working on those functional math, money, time, measurement—anything that’s going to make them as independent as possible when they graduate. With life skills, we work on cooking. We do a monthly treat where we make a treat or a snack for all of the faculty in our school. The kids absolutely love to do that and they get to go and deliver it to them. Not only do they work on their cooking and their life skills, but also their social skills, such as getting them involved, getting them talking, and so that’s been phenomenal. I can’t thank my school enough for how inclusive they are of my students.
Of course, it comes with some challenging days, but the good days far outweigh the bad. I can’t go a day without smiling in my classroom.
How many students do you have?
We started this year with 18. We’ve had a few move, so we’re down to 15. We split between two groups. Last year we had 23, so we’re down a little bit from last year. We have a group of eight and a group of seven we serve.
Our two groups are based on their ability level. We have one group that’s working more like kindergarten to first grade level, then our second group is working on more of a first to third grade level. I teach both. We flip flop them between my co-teacher and me, Mrs. Rice, because she teaches them English Language Arts and transition skills, which is teaching them those job skills.
I understand there are shortages of teachers and especially special ed teachers.
Yes, there definitely is. They told us that when we were at Anderson University about the burnout rate, within five years and 10 years, but I will say at your school and your school community, it definitely makes a huge difference. I just feel like for any field, but especially in special education, having that admin support and support of your co-teachers is huge.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in working in special education?
Anyone who is thinking about education and especially special education, I would just let them know “don’t listen to the negative.” There’s far more positive that I get from teaching, especially teaching special ed, than the negative, because so often now, especially in the media, you see the teacher shortage and everyone just talking about all of the negative things rather than the positives. You can’t come into my classroom without kids telling me that they love me and giving a million hugs every day. I don’t see how you can let the negative outweigh the positive for what you want to do. If you truly love being able to work with kids with special needs, go for it.
What gives you a sense of accomplishment?
We’ll have kids where we’ve been working on something for weeks or months, and all of a sudden their face just lights up, and it’s that “aha” moment that they finally get what we were working on. Just those moments, because then the kids say “I did it!” Just being able to see their joy of just finally getting that one skill is so joyful and you’re sharing in their joy.
Why would you recommend studying education at Anderson?
I’ve always told anyone looking at education to go to Anderson. Just that community feel you get there. I know I could call up my professors now and ask them for advice on things. I have them on Facebook, I still have their phone numbers, just being able to have that sense of community and family and they truly care about you. You’re not just a number in their classroom. You’re not one of 300 graduating from a program. You truly get to become a family with your professors and your classmates. For me that made all the difference.
When you’re not teaching, what do you enjoy doing?
My husband and I don’t have any kids yet. We enjoy seeing family. All of our family is local. Of course we’ll hang out with friends. Last summer we purchased a boat, so we like to go out on the boat on Lake Hartwell. Definitely travel. As restrictions have been lifted we’ve looked at hopefully traveling to Europe and things like that. Just enjoying life and the people we love. We’ve been married almost three years. Hunter works at Michelin as a scheduler-planner for their maintenance department.