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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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11. How I Learned to Be a Teacher in Room 137



Room 137 was a special education cliché. We were a group of nine 14–16 year-old students, a novice teacher, and a salty paraprofessional, all gathered together in a classroom located in the basement. There’s the kid who I’ve only seen with his hooded head on the desk; his friend, who speaks for him; the talkative, eager student (why is he in this class, I wonder?); the social butterfly who comes late every period so his “upstairs” friends don’t see him going down the stairs; the student who is entering her third school in as many years and alternates between giving her classmates gifts and suggesting they are not as cool or as tough as those in her last school; the football player who is in a constant flurry of motion; and the kid whose sardonic stare and silence is meant to intimidate. Thinking back twenty years later, the beige of the painted cinderblock walls, the maze of desks and tables that just barely fit into the rectangular space, the burnt and dusty smell and steady metallic rattle of the forced air heating, and the image of my students have long lingered in my memory.

Room 137 was located in a small, public suburban high school that housed a magnet program for students labeled with disabilities. In 2001, this meant that the top two floors were primarily occupied by students in grades 9–12 who were attending school in their hometown. About 90 students,...

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