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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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16. No Bat Required



The past is at its best when it takes us to places that counsel and instruct, that show us who we are by showing us where we have been, that remind us of our connections to what happened here (italics in the original). (Chapman, 1979)

Sound Warehouse, the former mega record store sourced my reward scheme for students. Styx, Molly Hatchett, Eagles, Rush, CS&N, Emmylou Harris, Fleetwood Mac were a few of the oversized posters that lined my middle school classroom. Freebies that the store employees put aside for me became the prime motivator for students to produce their best work. On any given day, I might walk over to a poster and with great drama, remove it, and hand it the student. It wasn’t based on a point system, or a barter system—it was random and usually, the surprised student wondered how I knew that the poster was their favorite. Getting to know my students was the easy part, the difficult part, too often was getting them to know themselves as more than an amalgam of failure and lack.

I began my career as a public school special education teacher in the 1970s, certified by the state of Texas. My credential did not distinguish, in the typical categorical approach, qualification to teach a particular student population. Rather, a “generic” certification qualified me to teach any K-12 student identified as disabled. This non-distinction was never unpacked for its meaning...

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