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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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18. Recovering the Spirit



This is a story of self-healing. My first-grade special education teacher, Ms. Hong,1 was a very strict person. To this day, I can recall her following me as I walked around my self-contained classroom. In retrospect, I was just being me. Just being inside my body, just being a happy child. However, when I would go into her self-contained classroom, I always felt a sense of being watched and surveilled. As a young boy, I loved being in my imagination, but when I was around Ms. Hong, she always pulled me away from what I was doing, demanding my undivided attention. One day when I was just being myself and looking through my fingers, making the shape of a diamond with my index-fingers and thumbs, and Ms. Hong rushed toward me, grabbing my arms, and began to mock me: “What are you doing? Kids don’t do this! You look so dumb, looking through your fingers like this. Stop doing that! Focus!”

Another time that Ms. Hong mistreated me was when she took several pieces of paper that I had just thrown into the wastebasket. She looked at me and said, “This is how you throw away paper?” Ms. Hong picked up the piece of paper from the wastebasket and held it on the edges with both hands and twisted it. Afterward, Ms. Hong placed the paper close to my face and said, “This is how you throw away paper! So, you...

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