Dr. Aftynne Cheek is an assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Reading Education and Special Education. She has previous experience working in P-12 school teaching students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, and emotional and behavioral disorders.
What excites you or inspires you about the field of special education?
I credit my passion for special education to one student with a severe intellectual disability I had the pleasure of teaching during my first internship. His excitement for learning and watching his gain new knowledge inspired me to continue my education in special education. The field of special education motivates me because it is constantly changing and evolving. Every student I encounter with a disability is different. Each student requires individual attention and programming.
When I was in the classroom, I always knew I wanted to affect the lives of students with disabilities on a much greater level. Now as faculty at Appalachian State University, I am able to do just that. The preservice and in-service teachers I interact with, teach or supervise/coach, use strategies learned in the classroom or during professional development during their instruction. The quality instruction they provide improves the lives of students with disabilities – one student at a time. Knowing I am having an impact in this way is my daily motivation.
Why did you choose to come to Appalachian to teach?
I chose to come to Appalachian because the university as a whole is very student focused. Specifically, in the Reich College of Education, faculty are encouraged to invest their time in students in and out of the classroom. As faculty, I enjoy exposing my students to special education content, but I also understand the importance of getting to know each student individually so I can help them become the best teacher for students with disabilities.
What is your research specialty and how does it fit into and/or strengthen your teaching?
My research interests include teacher preparation, eCoaching and literacy instruction for students with severe intellectual disabilities. I enjoy supporting teachers in the classroom, through the use of technology, as they learn to use the skills they are learning in the teacher preparation classroom.
My classroom experience working in P-12 schools teaching students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, and emotional and behavioral disorders enables me to share real stories and scenarios for deep classroom discussions and demonstrations. Also, since I enjoy using technology when supporting teachers, I am able to make myself available to my students via Skype, Google Hangout, email and phone, etc.
What do you hope students take away from the classes you teach?
Teaching is fun and learning should be fun! When my students take my courses, I want them to learn a lot, but also have fun while learning. I lecture, we play games, we watch videos, they do projects, we read interesting books, and much more. After finishing my course, I hope they learn that there is no one correct answer when teaching students with severe disabilities.
As I often say in class, “It depends.” Just like them, their future students will be individuals with their own preferences. One strategy may work for one student and not another. It is my hope that my students will approach teaching with curiosity and have fun during the process!
Why should a student interested in special education choose Appalachian?
Prospective students should choose Appalachian because it’s a large university with a small college feel, where faculty and staff will know you by name and not by number. We invest in you because we believe your success is important.
In addition, Appalachian is part of a mountain community and embraces the mountain culture. We take care of one another, we build each other up, and we are all on the mountain because we want to be here. In Boone and at Appalachian, you will find your place, you feel welcomed, and you will be home.