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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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5. “Why Is Lisa’s classroom in the basement?” Reflections on Noticing and Disrupting Exclusion



“We notice what we notice in accordance with who we are.”

Robert Coles, Doing Documentary Work (1997, p. 2)

When we teach a student—any student, of any age—we must first notice, really make note of, who they are. We make judgements and decisions about their interests, talents, strengths, and needs informed by what we know about them, or rather what we think we know inferred from what we notice. Our understanding of who students are is always already colored, shaped and filtered through the prism of our own experiences and subjectivities, the stereotypes and metaphors of the culture we live in, and the social positionings we’ve experienced.

Research, too, involves noticing people, situations and institutions. How do we identify the issues that warrant our attention, the questions that shape our programs of research? The questions we ask, those that awake us in the night and move us to design and conduct research, are borne in our hearts and motivated by our own interests and experiences.

Both teaching and conducting research can thus be understood as ways of noticing, and both are necessarily influenced by one’s values and experiences. How did I come to identify as a disability studies scholar? It was the cumulative effect of noticing exclusion and the desire to do something about it. For me, the movement towards a disability studies mindset began in childhood and was furthered by my experiences teaching high...

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