Professor of Special Education at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sandy Long, Professor of Special Education

Meet Dr. Sandy Long, a passionate and dedicated professor of education at Carson-Newman University.

What programs do you teach at Carson-Newman University? What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?

I am a Professor of Education at Carson-Newman University who primarily teaches special education courses. As a high school student, I was an aide in a special education class for one period a day, and I absolutely fell in love with the challenges and complexity of those students. The idea of them being “other” utterly intrigued me then, as it does now.

Years later, about three months into my first year of teaching, they brought me a little first-grade boy named Huy. He had cerebral palsy, was non-verbal, and his home language was Vietnamese. I was in way over my head but working with Huy taught me so much. That year, I learned to make adjustments, advocate for my students, and not let fear of making a mistake stop me from doing what I thought was right. Because of Huy, I started back to graduate school to become a school psychologist, and the rest is history.

How will your programs better prepare/equip educators for the current climate they are facing? How will it help them tackle the challenges of COVID and post-COVID teaching?

I’ve been in education for many years now, and I honestly believe that this is the hardest time ever for teachers. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and a contentious political environment, teachers are being torn in every direction. The programs at Carson-Newman University prepare teachers by providing a plethora of clinical experience undergirded by the study of theory and practices. Together, we work through complex questions and tough situations. “What would you do if….” is a common starting point in many of our classes.

What attracted you to teach at Carson-Newman University? What sets them apart?

Although I grew up moving often (I was an Army brat), both my parents were from Tennessee. When I saw the opportunity to move back, I jumped at it. The fact that Carson-Newman University allows me to deeply explore and live my faith was, and has been, the icing on the cake. I’m not simply teaching facts but, I hope, I’m helping students explore their own beliefs, trust their best judgment, and act from a place of strength and love.

What is your professional background as an educator?

I have a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Florida, and M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Houston. I went through alternative certification to gain my initial license while teaching in inner city Houston, Texas. I then taught in elementary school for several years, then became a school psychologist. My doctoral work was completed while working in the Pediatrics Department at UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you become interested in education?

I was one of those kids who always played “teacher.” School was a respite for me. No matter how often we moved, or how chaotic my home life, school was there, and I knew what to expect.

In high school, my journalism teacher was a woman named Joe Berta Bullock. She was born with spina bifida, later developed polio, and walked with crutches due to her legs. She might have stood four feet tall, but nothing stopped her. To this day, I am inspired by Miss Bullock, and, because of her, I teach from a “can do” attitude for persons with disability. I want special ed teachers to be totally committed to finding what students can do and then taking them as far as possible.

What would you tell prospective students considering your programs about yourself? What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you?

I would tell them that I truly care and want them to leave confident in their own skills and sense of self, that I feel honored to help them on this path, and that I will remember them long after they’ve forgotten me.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their graduate education degree? How can people stand out in this field?

I’d say that everyone, especially teachers right now, needs to take a deep breath and focus on what is important. Special education is a field that is rooted in law as well as pedagogy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about the minutiae of details and paperwork.

What is more important, though, is to keep sight on the spirit of the law – that every child deserves a chance for a free and appropriate education. Graduate school in education is for those people who want to walk the path with those of us who follow our departmental motto – to be called, caring, and competent.