Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Major: Elementary Special Education with a concentration in cognitive impairment
College: College of Education and Human Services
Graduated: May 2021
Job Title: Special education teacher at Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy in Detroit
One simple connection helped Tyler Burns find his passion for helping students with special needs. The May 2021 graduate watched one of his summer campers snap a pool cue over their knee after reaching their boiling point. The young man with autism had been getting picked on by other campers and reached his limit.
"I, as you're supposed to do, took everyone out of the room and let the outburst happen in a safe space," Tyler said. "I put a chair in the middle of the room and let him do his thing."
The Grand Rapids alum felt the back of his chair in his camper's grasp. He was being slowly dragged around the room. After a minute or two, Tyler felt the camper put their head on his shoulder. An apology soon came out of the camper's mouth.
"To see that huge change so instantaneously," Tyler said, "to see their growth, it was just amazing to see."
It was in that moment that it clicked for him. This was it. He found a way to make an impact on students, and he wanted to continue making a meaningful impact.
When classes started back up for the fall, he switched his major from physical therapy to elementary special education with a concentration in cognitive impairment. Tyler chose that concentration because of his experience with his stepbrother, who is on the autism spectrum.
"We went to the same school for kindergarten through eighth grade," Tyler said. "He would get bullied, so he would come get me."
That advocacy helped Tyler find his passion for helping others. The teacher education program awarded him "early release" because they know he's ready. That means he now has his own classroom for sixth through eighth graders within Detroit Public Schools. He's already connecting with his own students and advocating for their education, even before graduating.
"It's scary," Tyler said. "But in two weeks alone, we're starting to get used to each other and get into a routine. It's been amazing. Each day goes by and you get more and more comfortable. It's a great start to get to know them before next year."
Tyler credits his early release to the experience he got in the classroom and from hearing his professors' experiences. It gave him the confidence to step into his own classroom before he even walked across the graduation stage.
"CMU gave me a great foundation and so many strategies and skills," he said. "Even my professors told me this: 'I can give you the tools, but I can't help you teach.' Once you get into the field, student teaching even, you learn so much in that small time period."