Determined special education graduate ready to help others overcome challenges

By Linda Hass | Published April 13, 2016

When Eastern Michigan University senior Kyle McAllister walks across the commencement stage on April 24, he will be among jubilant undergraduates celebrating the passage from student to graduate.

But perhaps no one has more reason to celebrate than McAllister, whose graduation involved overcoming a learning disability and tuning out critics who dissuaded him from pursuing a career as a teacher.

"I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the fourth grade. My life changed at that point--I became one of those 'special education' kids who was viewed differently by my peers and made fun of. But the experience taught me to persevere," says McAllister, who is on track to receive a bachelor's degree in special education with a cognitive impairment K-12 major and secondary mathematics minor.

Man on a mission

Dyslexia is a disorder characterized by difficulty in language processing. In McAllister's case, the diagnosis followed years of struggling to read, write and speak at the same level as his peers.

While those difficulties might have dissuaded some, they emboldened the Fenton-Linden native, whose indomitable spirit rose to every challenge, propelling him to pursue his dreams and never give up. He eagerly took advantage of the support his parents provided, including enrollment in the Dyslexia Institute of Michigan and tutors during the school year and summer.

"This helped me develop compensatory skills; even so, by the time I got to high school, the challenges were huge. I spent my days always catching up," says McAllister.

"It also helped me develop empathy for my fellow special education peers who were not as successful. I found myself wanting to help them. That's when I knew I had a mission—to be a special education teacher," he says.

The EMU difference

This sense of calling led to another challenge—selecting the right College of Education. It had to be one that offered vital support services and provided a top-notch education. "No college could compare to Eastern—it had the tools to not only bring out the best in students, but to make them shine," he says.

EMU also had the reputation McAllister sought. "Eastern's teacher education program is world renown; graduates are highly regarded by employers. Needless to say, when I received my acceptance letter, I was elated."

Being accepted into the College of Education had some bumps and detours along the way, however. While McAllister had completed all the required classes and maintained an excellent grade point average, he had yet to pass the writing portion of the MTTC Basic Skills Test, which is required for admission to the COE.

"This requirement was directly testing my disability—writing and language arts. I was definitely at a disadvantage, but I was not going to give up," he says.

McAllister hired a tutor to improve certain skills and he wrote to University and State officials asking for an extension—and he received it, says Associate Professor Karen Schulte, Department of Special Education & Communication Sciences and Disorders, adding that he did pass the test.

"Kyle is one of the hardest working students I know," says Schulte, who taught three of McAllister's classes. "He has overcome many obstacles to complete his degree and earn his teaching certificate. He never once considered giving up. He truly models the dedication and passion of a great teacher. He's an inspiration."

Refuse to give up

McAllister says he has one more certification exam to pass, but he is hopeful about the outcome. "I see light at the end of the tunnel, and it's shining brightly." he says. "To other students overcoming challenges, I say, there will always be people who discourage you, but don't listen to them. Listen to your heart, follow your dreams, and refuse to give up."

After graduation, McAllister hopes to work as a special education teacher on the elementary or secondary level, or as a mathematics teacher on the secondary level.

Schulte predicts he will make an excellent teacher. "Kyle understands what it's like to struggle with schoolwork. He's totally dedicated to helping students who are experiencing the same difficulties that he did," she says. "I believe he will become a leader in the field of education. His strong interpersonal skills and his dedication to teaching are a model for all of us."

McAllister says he's excited about the future, thanks to EMU. "Eastern has been instrumental in providing me with an outstanding education," he says. "It has been a long road, but my dream is finally coming true. I've learned from the best, to become the best I can be."

Learn more or donate

For more information on Eastern's undergraduate degrees in special education, visit the Types of Teachers page or contact David Winters (department head, special education) at [email protected].

To make a difference in the lives of future special education students, make a gift to one of many established funds, or contact Christa Reid, director of development for the College of Education at [email protected].