How teaching helped me embrace my stammer
Bhupinder Purewal tells us about her teacher training and how positive reactions from pupils has helped her openness around stammering.
I struggled with my stammer for most of my life due to my attitude towards it. I had lots of speech therapy as a child — from NHS and private sessions to hypnotherapy. I even tried singing lessons at one point!
Growing up, the only narrative I heard about stammering was that it could — and must — be defeated. The success stories of Emily Blunt and Ed Sheeran were continually in the media and made me feel as if you needed to stop stammering in order to lead a successful life.
Almost two years ago, I started training as a primary school teacher. After doing an English degree and looking into graduate careers, primary teaching seemed like the best career for my personality. I began my Postgraduate training year feeling excited for a fresh start. I was determined not to stammer and thought that if I did my exercises every day and used the techniques I learnt from therapy, I could control it.
However, as I observed different teachers, I began to feel more and more nervous. Despite my effort to use my techniques, I stammered considerably when making small talk with staff and my course mates. Nothing that I did to control it worked and I began to dread the day when I would have to stand up in front of the class to start teaching.
When I continued to stammer when teaching, I felt as if I could do so openly, and no longer had to feel guilt and embarrassment for something I could not control.
The first class I taught were a Year Two class and, despite my shaking hands and dysfluency, they seemed to like having me as a teacher. They laughed at my attempts at humour and listened when I gave instructions. I could not always say their names when taking the register and felt awkward when being observed by other members of staff, but the pupils did not appear to notice. For the first time in my life, the people in front of me were not judging me. The children I taught did not react when I stammered and were too young to understand why I spoke differently. All they knew was that I was their teacher and, as a teacher, I had to be respected. Suddenly, I felt a new feeling of power — a sense of freedom that being in a position of authority gave me.
- Read our Stammering At Work page for tips on coping in the workplace
The year went on and I taught different classes. With older children, I knew that I had to talk about my stammer openly and felt anxious about this. I have always found it difficult to talk about my stammer and have always viewed it as a weakness. Now, it was necessary that the pupils I taught understood that it did not affect my ability as a teacher. As I explained what having a stammer meant, I felt uncomfortable and struggled to even say the word 'stammer'. However, none of the pupils laughed and a few even asked me questions about it. I immediately felt lighter as if a secret had been revealed. When I continued to stammer when teaching, I felt as if I could do so openly, and no longer had to feel guilt and embarrassment for something I could not control.
coming to terms with it
I can't say that the training year was altogether an easy one, but it was one which forced me to come to terms with my speech. After having a difficult assessment, where I found myself stammering continually for long periods whilst being observed, I was made to come to terms with the fact that I would not always be able to control my stammer. At first, I felt as if it was wrong of me to stop using my techniques and embrace it. But, as the year passed, I realised that this was the only way forward. I was tired of hiding from my stammer. Most of all, I was tired of listening to people telling me that I could control it if I did things differently. Having a stammer is not something which anyone should have to hide from or feel ashamed of.
Being open with both my pupils and colleagues has helped me to fully embrace my stammer in every aspect of my life.
This past year I have started my first job as a primary school teacher. The responsibility of teaching a Year Six class during a pandemic has been a challenge to say the least, but it has also been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Being open with both my pupils and colleagues has helped me to fully embrace my stammer in every aspect of my life.
When I stammer in social situations and with staff at work, I no longer feel the rush of guilt that I did before. I used to believe that my stammer was something which was separate from myself — something I could fix if I tried hard enough. I now believe that my stammer is, and will always be, a part of who I am.
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