After receiving the 2017 Sam Kirk Educator of the Year Award, David H. Allsopp plans to continue to work on developing and implementing an innovative teacher preparation program in special education at USF, as he’s done for the past seven years.
Since May, Allsopp has worked as the assistant dean of the Department of Special Education at USF, as well as the director of USF’s David C. Anchin Center — a program that engages the expertise of professors, researchers, educators and social and educational leaders to develop innovations that advance the boundaries of learning and teaching.
“We have the opportunity to kind of push the envelope, in terms of professional development and innovation around the needs of kids who struggle,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to be in this position and have a different opportunity in a different way to carry on the same kind of values and mission that I’ve had in my career.”
Allsopp began as a substitute teacher in Ocala in 1984, and has been teaching ever since. Originally venturing to psychology at the University of Florida, Allsopp took on the role as a full time substitute teacher for a high school’s self-contain unit for students with severe emotional disturbance.
“That is where I fell in love with working with kids,” he said.
A year later, Allsopp landed a permanent position as a middle school teacher, where he found he enjoyed the age group the most. After eight years, he took a break from teaching to complete a two-year residency for his doctorate program in Gainesville, where he married his wife Margaret, a former teacher who is currently in a doctoral program for applied anthropology.
After earning his doctorate’s degree, him and his wife moved to Virginia, where he taught at James Madison University for six years before coming to USF in 2001.
In his early life, Allsopp was interested in becoming a veterinarian. Growing up, he lived in a 25-acre property in Ocala as a middle child with his parents and two brothers. Since his mother taught horseback riding and helped rehabilitate horses, Allsopp was always around animals and developed a love for them.
“We learned everything about horses,” he said.
Allsopp attended Furman University where he played football, not making the grades necessary to get into vet school. Pondering this, he later switched his major to psychology.
“I always enjoyed people, and I always wanted to understand why people do what they do,” he said.
One of his favorite professors, Gilles Einstein, a cognitive psychologist, was interested in understanding memory and identification processing, and he would refer to studies that involved individuals with learning disabilities, which introduced Allsopp to the idea.
Through his doctoral coursework in psychology, he developed an understanding of behavior and how the brain processes information from a learning standpoint, which helped when he became a teacher.
“My passion has always been around trying to bridge the research practice gap for teachers in particular,” Allsopp said. “Translating research into how do you put it in place has been a big part of my work and scholarship.”
Through Anchin, Allsopp and his team have over 30 projects in the works, one of which is the Teacher Leadership Academy, whose mission is about building teacher capacity by taking coursework around being a teacher leader.
“My interest has always been about not just being a professor who teaches a course at a university, all of my work has been around linking what we’re doing from a course perspective to the field. It’s teaching, but then integrating that into rich clinical experiences for students and being a part of that,” Allsopp said.
Although Allsopp receives support and encouragement from Margaret and their two dogs, Mona and Graycie, he believes that he owes his success to his students. He keeps in touch with some of them, as well as his colleagues, through social media.
“Like everything, you hope you have a positive impact on peoples’ lives, but I’ve always said the impact that they’ve had on me is far greater than the impact I’ve had on any individual person,” he said.
Allsopp continues to teach at USF at both the undergraduate and doctoral levels, where his scholarship revolves around effective instructional practices, with an emphasis on mathematics, for students with high incidence disabilities, and other struggling learners who have not been identified with disabilities.
Allsopp encourages students who are interested in the special education field to “just do it.”
“It’s not easy work, but it’s enjoyable work. It’s the kind of thing that where it can be the hardest day, and then something will happen and you will just laugh and think it’s not that important,” he said.
“For them, going to school is such a struggle, and then they keep coming, and they’re smiling, and you think okay, we might be doing something right.”