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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field

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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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8. The Promises We Keep

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BRENT ELDER

As I began to write this chapter, I was flying from the northern Ghanaian city of Gonja to the southern coastal capital Accra. I had spent three days in Gonja, observing how teachers in rural schools with next to no resources were implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and inclusive strategies. The teachers were provided with professional development materials based on the inclusive education modules that Dr. Michelle Damiani and I designed for western Kenyan teachers while we were doctoral students at Syracuse University (SU). When I was not observing teachers, some of whom had their own newborn children strapped to their backs while teaching over fifty first grade students, I was drinking my morning coffee catching glimpses of African elephants and dodging mischievous baboons looking to steal my fruit. On trips like these, I oftentimes have to pinch myself and wonder how in the hell I got here.

To tell my story of how I came to be a domestic and international researcher/teacher of inclusive education and Disability Studies in Education (DSE), I share some pivotal moments from my career and make connections between my domestic and international work. By telling these stories I encourage others to think about how to breakdown segregated systems of education from the inside-out. For me, it has been important to think both locally and globally about inclusive education, and consider how each location can inform the other in important and transformative ways.

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