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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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13. Surprising Home Visits



I remember the day Ms. Colby*1 came to visit my house. My mother was in her house gown when we heard the knock on the window. We lived in a townhome community in Carol City, Florida, and used iron bars to both decorate and secure our home. Mami opened the wood and iron doors and let a woman who I eventually realized was one of my middle school teachers into the house.

I was flabbergasted.

During my childhood, regardless of their performance during the academic year, many students in Miami Dade County Public Schools attended summer school; I participated each year. Overall, summer school was much like the regular school year, except that sometimes students from other schools would come together in one building, and we had a shorter bell schedule.

In 1994, I was assigned to Ms. Colby’s seventh grade English class. She had developed a reputation for being a difficult teacher and a tough grader. My peers complained that she was mean. I was wary during the first days of classes, but soon came to a different interpretation of Ms. Colby’s teaching style. Sure, she would get frazzled if students were chatty, but overall, she was harmless. She was a kind, older Black woman who loved to tell stories about her family and childhood. Perhaps it was because my parents were senior citizens, or because of the similarities in the communication styles that the older Afro-Latina2 women...

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