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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field

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Edited By David J. Connor and Beth A. Ferri

This book purposefully connects practice to research, and vice versa, through the use of deeply personal stories in the form of autoethnographic memoirs. In this collection, twenty contributors share selected tales of teaching students with dis/abilities in K-12 settings across the USA, including tentative triumphs, frustrating failures, and a deep desire to understand the dynamics of teaching and learning. The authors also share an early awareness of significant dissonance between academic knowledge taught to them in teacher education programs and their own experiential knowledge in schools. Coming to question established practices within the field of special education in relation to the children they taught, each author grew increasingly critical of deficit-models of disability that emphasized commonplace practices of physical and social exclusion, dysfunction and disorders, repetitive remediation and punitive punishments. The authors describe how their interactions with children and youth, parents, and administrators, in the context of their classrooms and schools, influenced a shift away from the limiting discourse of special education and toward become critical special educators and/or engage with disability studies as a way to reclaim, reframe, and reimagine disability as a natural part of human diversity. Furthermore, the authors document how these early experiences in the everydayness of schooling helped ground them as teachers and later, teacher educators, who galvanized their research trajectories around studying issues of access and equality throughout educational structures and systems, while developing new theoretical models within Disability Studies in Education, aimed to impact practices and policies.
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Introduction: Learning from Teachers’ Lives

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DAVID J. CONNOR & BETH A. FERRI

Because we understand the world through stories, we have endeavored to make this book story-centered to engage the reader on a personal level. As long time colleagues, collaborators, and co-authors, we have often traded stories of our early experiences in education before we came to know each other. These memories are contextualized in classrooms and communities, featuring children and youth, their parents, former teaching colleagues, and school leaders. What they have in common is a mixture of funny incidents, serious happenings, and insightful observations about the living, breathing, organic nature of schooling. To state the obvious, much of what initially resonated within us during this era in our lives has stayed within us, constituting part of who we are to this day.

Just as we have shared our stories with one another, we also noticed that other seasoned educators do the same. At conferences and presentations, professionals who began their careers in K-12 schools and are now university-level teachers and researchers, often reminisce about the time they started their careers. Specific children from their classes are described in great detail, along with fellow teachers who “showed them the ropes,” administrators in both positive and negative light, and parents who advocated for the needs of their own children. Along with these character profiles, seasoned educators also describe their initial realizations about how education systems functioned through regulations, processes, and customs they were required to follow, and the overarching organizational structures...

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