Written by Rik
Here at this very platform, Natalie Mortimer recently wrote a blog in which she asks the question whether it’s okay to be defined by your stammer. She wrote about the impact we can have on people we work with and the legacy we leave behind. Just by the simple fact that she stutters at work, she raises awareness. Since I fully agree with her, please allow me to add my two cents worth.
For the past three years now I’ve been working as a history teacher at various schools all throughout the Netherlands. Just recently I started at a new school. As always, this meant that I had to tell my colleagues and my students that I have a stammer. Now, of course I didn’t have to tell them. I could have just let them hear my voice and my stutters, and see what their reaction would be. I could even hide it for a while, use some techniques I have picked up over the years, but I never do that anymore. So I always tell students and the people I work with that I stutter, just to address the elephant in the room and clear the air.
Of course my students make jokes about it. They might snigger behind my back about it. But look, have you attended secondary school? Students gossip and snigger about almost any teacher they think is either weird or awesome. They find it interesting if their teacher has something other teachers do not have. If students do not talk about you, you haven’t made an impression on them. I don’t mind them defining me by my stammer, because at least then I know that I have made an impression on them.
As a history teacher my main objective is to tell my students about the past and what we can learn from it for the present and the future. But besides that, I have another role, that of being an example for them and grooming them for the grownup-world. Besides teaching these ‘miniature people’ about dead people and events that happened long ago, I also show them that you shouldn’t let an impairment become an obstacle to doing what you like to do.
I distinctly remember working at my first school. I was having a hard time, being a substitute teacher, unexperienced and coping with some personal issues at the time. After the schoolyear ended I was let go and my supervisor gave a short speech about me at the last meeting, in front of all the other teachers and staff. He said that I had made everyone in the room a better person for showing that it was possible to stutter and still be a teacher.
The speech touched me down to the very core, for over the previous months I had come to hate myself and my job for the way I had handled it. I seriously doubted trying to find a new school to work at. I was thinking about leaving education for good and find a job where I wouldn’t be obligated to talk all the time. Stressed out, depressed, on the brink of a burn-out, my supervisor’s words made me realise that even if I still had a lot to learn about being a teacher, I had at least one important message to spread.
Since then I have grown as a teacher and as a person. And even though I am very critical of who I am, up to the point where I do not like myself and wouldn’t want to be around myself if I had the choice, I know I can be proud of one thing I have achieved: being a stuttering teacher. Every time I go to work, I am raising awareness and showing my students that is possible to have an impairment and still doing what you like to do. And that makes me proud to stammer!