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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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6. Fictionalized Memories: The Making of a Research Identity in Four Seasons



It was a sunny, late September morning in 2015—one of the most beautiful months in Chicago. The hot humid summer had passed through the city and the brutal cold winter was not showing any signs of being near. As I drove northwest on Milwaukee Avenue from my home in Humboldt Park, I passed through the now gentrified, hipster, and trendy Logan Square neighborhood, turned left on Diversity and crossed Cicero Ave. My destination was the house of a Latinx family with a child with a disability; my purpose was to interview the mother for a research project. In this particular study, I wanted to understand how parents and their children’s intersecting social locations, such as race and disability, and geographical location in the city shaped their experiences with school choice policies. The purpose of that study, and others I would go on to do, reflected my ongoing research interest into how neoliberal1 informed educational policies (e.g., school choice) affects the educational experiences of students with disabilities from minoritized backgrounds. Indeed, issues of neoliberalism, disability, race, and class-based inequalities are foregrounded in much of my work (see, for example, Waitoller, 2020; Waitoller & Kozleski, 2015; Waitoller & Lubineski, 2019; Waitoller, Nguyen, & Super, 2019).

Chicago has been a great site to understand this topic. As soon as I arrived to the “windy city” in 2011 as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was overwhelmed and surprised by how...

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