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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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7. Paintings on Clear Plastic that Hang from the Ceiling



“Is there somewhere else I could teach art that isn’t a typical school?” I asked the director of the art education program at my undergraduate art school. I was 21 years old and it was time for me to do my student teaching. All of my classmates went to typical elementary, middle and high schools to try their hand at being art teachers. I couldn’t imagine this for myself. I never envisioned myself as a teacher of anything. I thought of myself as shy and not particularly gifted in doing school and a little angsty, perfect for an artist. The idea that I could stand in front of a classroom and get kids to listen to me, let alone motivate them, seemed impossible.

My major was sculpture and only at my mom’s insistence did I sign up for a minor in art education that would lead to a teaching credential. She reminded me that I had loans waiting for me upon graduation and that most people in the fine arts need other hustles. I went to talk to the director of the art education program, just to talk, and she said that if I was unsure about teaching, I should take the practicum class before committing to anything. The practicum class was teaching at a Saturday art school program, offered to kids in the surrounding community. Because I was signing up late, the director told me that I wouldn’t be working with kids, all...

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