Congratulations Gerald McCain, Megan Farnsworth!
1. What motivated you to write Determining Difference from Disability?
Gerry: The issue of how to appropriately determine differences from disabilities has been a struggle for teachers as long as I can remember. Having been a special education teacher near the New Mexico and Mexico border, I have experienced this difficult task many times. There have been several books on how to deliver instruction or how to work with ELLs and students with disabilities, but very few books specifically for teachers to determine if their ELL students actually have a disability.
Over my 25 +years in higher education teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages and Special Education courses, the evidence is clear that educators are lacking in resources for this very concerning issue. I decided to write “Determining Difference from Disability: What Culturally Responsive Teachers Should Know”, because I continuously see teachers in general education classrooms leaving teacher preparation programs without the tools to effectively work with this specific student population.
Megan: When I taught English Language Development in Oregon, many of my English Learner (EL) students were being referred for Special Education services by their general education teachers. When I went to discuss concerns with the teachers about their ELL students’ progress, I found that they did not know anything about language acquisition. Therefore, I realized the need for general education teachers to learn about language acquisition and strategies to support their ELs, which is most effective in teacher preparation programs.
2. From the book, what is your favorite strategy/piece of advice?
Gerry: My favorite piece of advice for teachers is, “know your cultural self and how that impacts your teaching and your students’ learning.”
Megan: I appreciate the growth that Ms. Casad makes throughout the book, with her strong desire to meet César, Rosa, and Jun’s needs. My favorite part is when she reflects on her interactions in class with César about moving from place to place, and learns to hold empathy for him by learning to walk in his shoes.
3. Tell us one of your favorite stories about a student you’ve worked with.
Gerry: The case study student “Rosa” in this book is based on a student I worked with when I was a special education teacher in New Mexico. She literally would come to school everyday dressed in clean clothes, with ribbons in her hair, and by the end of the day she looked like she had been dragged through the mud. This of course was because she was quick to anger and did not let anyone, and I mean anyone, push her around. She was diagnosed with Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and after she left grade school the only thing I heard about her was that she had finished her Associates degree at a community college and was working at a nearby hospital. This young girl overcame obstacles that most of us can’t even imagine.
Megan: During one unit I was teaching about Creation myths, and we read one myth, the Raven who stole the sun. Then, I asked students to write their own creation myth with illustrations. One student was a great artist and created beautiful pictures alongside her words. When reading her story, her face brightened with pride. She said something about being excited that she could write her own story, and not just read them. She had realized she was an author, and held a key to unlock a door.
4. What has been one of the proudest moments of your education career so far?
Gerry: I would say that the proudest moments of my education career were while working as a special education teacher in New Mexico. Those students changed my life and how I have attempted to work at providing better opportunities for all my students.
Megan: One of my proudest moments was last year, when a former student contacted me at to tell me she was going to attend the university I taught at! I met her when he arrived from China in first grade and taught her until sixth grade, and then exited English Language Development. I was so proud that she had been admitted to a 4-year university, and also honored that she made the effort to re-connect with me.
5. And finally, please tell us your favorite thing about being in Education in one word.
Gerry McCain, PhD, is a professor of education at Southern Oregon University. He taught Bilingual Special Education in Las Cruces, New Mexico, prior to earning his doctorate in Bilingual Special Education.
Megan Farnsworth, PhD, is an associate professor of special education at Southern Oregon University.