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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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Conclusion: Bridging Theory and Practice through Story



Stories are the central way that we bring meaning to experience (Short, 2012). Who we are is literally a collection of stories—those we’ve been told about ourselves, those we tell others. Many stories in this book point to critical moments or touchstone experiences that we, the collective authors in this volume, understand now (but likely did not in the moment) as helping to shape who we have become as teachers, researchers, and scholars. We might look back at these earlier selves with surprise and affection, and sometimes even shame and regret. We may wish that we knew then what we know now, but also must recognize that we likely wouldn’t be who we are, or know what we know now, had it not been for that earlier self.

The characters in these narratives are truly unforgettable: parents, teachers, students, administrators, and colleagues. Each is a key player in our memories—through these characters and sometimes against them, we became the professionals we now are (or will be). Of course, we are not finished—our stories are never finished—there is always another page, chapter, or verse. But there is a reason we return again and again to these early stories and the people who inhabit them, the students especially. Their faces and names, are forever lodged in our memories. They were often our best, and sometimes our most challenging, teachers. Moreover, their lessons continue to teach us, as...

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