Teacher Collaboration And Learner Categories In Bilingual Special Education: An Exploration Of Race, Language, And Disability

Jennifer Phuong, University of Pennsylvania


There is no explicit legislation or policy in the United States that addresses the intersectional needs of bilingual students of color with disabilities, leading to difficulties in how to best educate them. Currently, different types of provide varying and disconnected services, resulting in fragmented rather than holistic views of students and their needs. In bilingual schooling contexts, a second language of instruction adds complexity to teachers’ collaborative processes, taking into account the (lack of) availability of bilingual educators, and coordinating and providing special education services in multiple languages. Moreover, much research on bilingual special education relies on assuming categories related to language and disability are naturalized and individual. To examine teachers’ experiences within bilingual special education, I conducted a school-based ethnography of language policy and planning, complemented by discourse analytic methods, at Dual Language Charter School, a bilingual charter school located in a racially and economically segregated part of Philadelphia. I focused on teachers’ meaning-making processes as they collaborated in planning and implementing instruction, negotiated and created categories of learners related to language, race, and disability, ultimately creating and negotiating de facto language education policies pertaining to that intersection. I worked with the fourth grade teacher team to explore how they understood students and instructional practices more broadly due to their language proficiency, training, and experiences, as well as their collaborative dynamics. Methods included participant observations, artefact and documentation collection, and interviews. To analyze such interactions and discourse, I draw from DisCrit and raciolinguistic ideologies, theoretical frameworks that denaturalize notions of race, language, and disability. Findings include (a) an investigation of color-evasive education policy related to language and disability, the service delivery model, and how specialist teachers are marginalized within this model; (b) an analysis of ideologies of languagelessness and hyper-labeling that converge to pathologize students regardless of institutional designations; and (c) a spatial and classroom discourse analysis focusing on the marginalization of specialist teachers. I ultimately argue that despite the intricate ways bilingual schooling mediates complex understandings of language and disability, the ableist and racist foundations of schooling until reify oppressive educational outcomes and experiences for multiply marginalized students.