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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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19. Journey as a Special Education Teacher of Color with Dis/abilities



After what seemed like a never-ending roller coaster of three different majors and two almost-minors, I graduated from my undergraduate program at Boston University with a Psychology degree. After failing Advanced Biology, I bounced around from the humanities to the social sciences before determining I was a generalist rather than a specialist. Racked with the guilt of having my dedicated parents shell out far too much financial support for my tuition, I spent my last few semesters trying to undo the damage of a low grade-point average (GPA). In the last few semesters, I became involved in a few research projects: one that focused on structured interviews and surveys of free care patients at the Boston Medical Center regarding their experiences of trauma, substance abuse, intimate partner violence; and another that looked at how children develop language skills. Despite these experiences, my undergraduate advisor recommended I take a few years off to support my devastatingly low GPA with some practical experiences. He also said he did not believe I was “graduate school material.” Heeding his advice, at least partially, I began to apply for Teach for America (TFA) and fellowships to become a fast-track teacher.

I applied for four specific urban school programs, some through the Teaching Fellows (The New Teacher Project) and some through TFA. After a few months of applications, I received an acceptance letter to the Oakland Teaching Fellows Program and a picture drawn by an elementary school student who...

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