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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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2. To My Students, with Gratitude: A Retrospective Journey of Teaching [Special Education]



Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a oneway street. I believe we all have the choice as to whether we fulfil our destiny, but our fate is sealed.

Paul Coelho

I’m not sure I believe in fate or destiny. More likely, these terms simply lend a sense of mystery and enchantment to our retrospective narratives. Still, when I think back on some of my most lasting and vivid school memories, I can almost believe that something like an inevitability was at work in the way that disability came to shape my life as an educator and academic. My earliest memories center on the three disappearing children of my childhood school days.

First, there was Rosemary. The first day she came to our second-grade classroom, she was efficiently escorted in by our teacher, Mrs. Rowan (all names are pseudonyms) and promptly deposited in a desk in the very back of the room. “Class, this is Rosemary,” our teacher announced. We all looked to the desk behind us where Rosemary sat with an expression of placid compliance, revealing little of the apprehension she no doubt felt. The first thing I noticed, and I’m sure everyone else noticed as well, were the bulky hearing aids she wore. It was the mid-1960s, and hearing aids looked nothing like the nearly invisible technological marvels of our modern age. Yet, Mrs. Rowan said nothing about the conspicuous transistor...

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