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Both Sides of the Table

Autoethnographies of Educators Learning and Teaching With/In [Dis]ability


Edited By Philip Smith

Both Sides of the Table is a set of evocative, heartfelt, personal, and revealing stories, told by educators about how their experiences with disability, personally and in the lives of family members, has affected their understanding of disability. It uses disability studies and critical theory lenses to understand the autoethnographies of teachers and their personal relationships with disability. The book takes a beginning look at the meaning of autoethnography as a method of inquiry, as well as how it has been (and will be) applied to exploring disability and the role of education in creating and sustaining it. The title refers to the context in which educators find themselves in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings for students with disabilities in schools. There, educators often sit on the other side of the table from people with disabilities, their families, and their allies. In these chapters, the authors assume roles that place them, literally, on both sides of IEP tables. They inscribe new meanings – of relationships, of disability, of schools, of what it means to be an educator and a learner. It is a proposal (or perhaps a gentle manifesto) for what research, education, disability, and a utopian revolutionary politics of social transformation could and should look like.
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Chapter 12: A New Chance to Matter, by Liz McCall


When tragedy strikes, most people don’t know what to say—so they throw a cliché in the general direction of the person who is floundering, drowning in grief. After my father-in-law died, everyone said to me, “Everything happens for a reason.” I wanted to give them a reason to go to the hospital each time they said it. There was no space in my mind where a reason would fit; there was only space for the pain I felt.

Three years later, when my Dad died, the chorus began singing that tune once again. “Everything happens for a reason” was the background music to my life. It was stuck in my head, but like all songs that get stuck there, I didn’t know what came next. I asked my family, I asked my friends, I looked to my husband for the answer. They couldn’t tell me; instead, they just sang along with the chorus. I wanted it to be true, that all of this had happened for a reason.

I hoped the reason would be a good one, that it would take away the pain. I waited for the reason to appear. It didn’t. So I went looking—and found it waiting for me in a classroom.


On the first day of the first job that ever really mattered to me, the one I worked so hard for, the principal came to my classroom. I was scrubbing shelves, rearranging books, covered in...

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