Namrah Chaudhry talks about overcoming inner self-doubt when working with sixth-formers.
As clichéd as it sounds, I've always known I wanted to work with young people in my career. Interacting with the youth, encouraging them on a daily basis and preventing their personal circumstances from shadowing their goals. In what capacity, however, became clearer later on. I wanted to use my experience, my voice and my motivation to inspire young people to achieve whatever they put their mind to, regardless of any barriers. But how does one do this with a speech impediment?
I work as a Student Services Manager at a sixth form in London. My role entails supporting vulnerable students with their needs through early intervention and ensuring it doesn't affect their academic studies, performance and experience at college. These needs and risk factors can range from acute mental health, bullying, self harm, home life and many more.
How could I encourage them to embrace their differences and not let them become a barrier when I was letting my difference become one?
Inevitably, a huge part of my role is communicating with the students, teachers, parents, external agencies and anyone really! Having a speech impediment which has gradually improved over time, I would constantly have a battle in my mind over whether I would settle for a non-interactive and unsociable career because of my fear of speaking or if I would overcome it and work in a job I always dreamed of. I went for the latter. Unfortunately, I can't pretend that my fear has vanished.
Working in a vibrant sixth form, public forms of communication is very much a pivotal part of my role. The anxiety before presenting in a staff briefing, an assembly or chairing a meeting is still very much in full form. The wobbly legs as I walk to the front of an audience and introduce myself and never failing to stutter on the word 'manager' as part of my job title. My sweaty palms and heart beating at such a rate that it's physically impossible to keep up with the order of my words. The sleepless night before presenting the next day is slowly improving but I still struggle to sleep soundly without worrying how my talk will go - which word will I stammer on? Should I swap X word for Y instead?
Where should I stand so there is enough space for me to pace in case I start stammering? I can't wear too many bangles on the day in case I overly use hand gestures while stuttering and it'll make a lot of noise. These are my weekly, if not daily, emotions that no one around me notices, but which I am sure every fellow stammerer can relate to. More importantly, how do I manage to not let my speech impediment get in the way of my work or allow it to become a barrier?
On a daily basis I support students to not let their personal, emotional, physical or mental circumstances hold them back from achieving what they want to in life. I reinforce the importance of embracing your differences and seeing them as a uniqueness rather than a disadvantage.
Nothing hurts me more than seeing a student throw their potential away because of the sentence ''I can't do it”. My main priority in the sixth form is to tell students they absolutely can do it and support them in doing so. If I let my speech impediment stop me from doing things that I wanted to do, what example would I be setting my students? How could I encourage them to embrace their differences and not let them become a barrier when I was letting my difference become one? This right here is what inspired me to not allow my stutter to get in the way of my work. Of course, the anxiety and nerves are still there but the truth is I love what I do for a living a bit too much to allow anything to get in the way. I wouldn't and I won't give up my work with students for anything.
You can make a difference if you won't let your difference get in the way.
To any fellow stammerers who want to join the education sector or any other sector for that matter but are afraid because of their speech, my primary advice would be that you can make a difference if you won't let your difference get in the way. Go out there and leave a mark.
Lastly, I am very much aware that I am not as fluent as others; my voice is different, a little slower, and a little more repetitive but I have a voice just like anyone else's. And I sure will use it.
For pointers on coping with stammering in the workplace, visit our Stammering at work page.