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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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20. My Disabled Teacher Presence

20.My Disabled Teacher Presence



I often tell my students, preservice teachers, that I have been thinking about disability since I was a small child—and, that my conception of it is ever-evolving as I interact with people and environments. These interactions have shaped me and have led me to find a home within Disability Studies in Education (DSE). As I finally write the story, I revisit the artifacts I’ve held on to over the years: letters from students, teacher evaluation forms, court documents, photos, and the journal of poems I wrote during my first years of teaching. It is clear that I’ve needed to tell the story. I learned to walk at age four and never took the training wheels off my bicycle. Leaning on walls and family and friends for balance, I knew my body was unique. It was a body with limits that I would push. But a body with limits is not such a strange thing, is it?

However, having a physical impairment, I had a strange position within my school community. In 1980, just five years after IDEA legislation, the folks at Colwich Grade School in Kansas agreed that the “least restrictive environment” for me was the general education classroom. There, I learned to see myself as different, if not better, than those who learned in the special classroom down the hall. I had already noticed the way people said “special ed” and was sure it was not a good thing. Sensing I was...

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