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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field


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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1. How I Got Here from There: The Road to Disability Studies in Education



I wonder if my middle school colleagues have as much trouble seeing me as a teacher as I do. I dress up by day as a teacher and return at night to my college friends who, like me, got jobs in the city where we graduated. My bumpy transition from college to adulthood mirrors the transition of my middle school students from childhood to adolescence. At least they have peers for company along the way. Among a mostly veteran faculty, I stand out as young and inexperienced. I desperately want to fast forward to an older me with a confidence that matches my desire to do right by these kids. And to do right by them includes engaging classroom teachers in a partnership with me, a special education resource teacher.

It is the fall of 1978. Special education is brand new just like me. There are no models or established practices for collaboration. The classroom is each teacher’s personal kingdom. I work up the nerve to approach my first colleague. I choose the hip and popular Mr. Phillips who teaches eighth-grade science. He graduated four years earlier from the same college as me, making us contemporaries of a sort. It does not seem like such a far leap to engage him in conversation about our mutual student with a learning disability. After opening with a bit of chit-chat, I casually offer suggestions about how we might work best together. He listens intently without...

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