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Lara Sanderson, PhD candidate

All the little things: The experiences of New Zealand Secondary school teachers living with impairments and/or chronic illness.


Uncover me, my life is woven
Into the warp of impairment
The weft of chronic illness
Experience first-hand me living (Woven, LJS, 2014)

What are the experiences of New Zealand secondary school teachers living with impairments and/or chronic illness? This is the question I sought to explore through the storied experiences of Abby, Boady, Cleo, Elle, Garry, George, Harry, Jane, Kate, Lilly, May, and Sophie (not their real names), 12 New Zealand secondary school teachers. Working within a qualitative interpretivist paradigm, I drew from disability studies, disability studies in education, and arts-based educational research to frame this study. I conducted a qualitative exploratory survey and narrative interviews to produce the data. Thematic analysis of the opened ended survey questions provided strands of inquiry for the poetic text “I am, am I?” and the narrative interviews: Discriminatory practices/negative attitudes; disclosure; acceptance and support; impairment/chronic affects. After conducting a series of narrative interviews over a year, I drew on narrative and poetic inquires to create an adapted holistic-content analysis framework to analyse the interview data. This invovled three stages. Firstly, taking the position of storyteller, I co-created with the interview participants, storied accounts around their experiences of living with impairments and/or chronic illness. Secondly, an inductive analysis phase produced the major themes of diagnosis, teaching, and disability. Finally, poetic texts were created as a further iteration and level of analysis The themes elucidate the complex, everyday doing and being for disabled New Zealand secondary school teachers. Teachers’ experienced levels of support from collegaues, and at times school management accomodated their impairments. Participants also discussed the impact of stigma, isolation, and feeling like they were burdens. They highlighted attidutinal barriers associated with getting into, and staying in teaching. The themes, combined with the poetic and narrative texts, produce a space for creating understandings of disabled teachers experiences in New Zealand. This thesis provides a foundation for further research with and by disabled New Zealand teachers. It argues for social and political changes for disabled teachers if inclusive education is to be actualised. These changes may include both the celebration of and advocacy for and with disabled teachers through online forums and teacher union initiatives. Disabled teachers’ perspectives largely remain invisible and untapped sources for inclusion at both practical and theoretical levels. The stories of Abby, Boady, Cleo, Elle, Garry, George, Harry, Jane, Kate, Lilly, May, and Sophie have the potential to become vehicles for change.


Dr Ruth Gasson (Primary Supervisor, Retired)
Professor Alex Gunn (Secondary Supervisor