Trust

In the past few weeks of work I have been able to catch up with most of my friends and find out what they did over the summer. The best thing I’ve heard by far is that my friend Genise climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. But I have to say that wasn’t so much the immensity of the mountain or the extreme climates and elevations, as the way she described the challenge and how she accomplished it.

You almost have to know Genise to fully understand how great her account was. She has the most animated way of talking and the hugest smile ever. She’s also tiny– not someone you’d necessarily expect to take on such an endeavor.

As she was recounting the experience to me, Genise said that several times she didn’t think she’d be able to go on. What made her keep going was the relationship she had with her guide Saidi. He has been climbing Kilimanjaro for 24 years.  Saidi was a man of few words, so when he spoke, she listened. His daily saying to them was “Hakuna Matata.”  (“No worries” in Kiswahili.)  Because he had such a calm demeanor, she was calm too. But the most important part of the relationship, was that she trusted him. Completely. She knew that nothing was more important to him than getting her safely and successfully up the mountain.

I asked Genise if after trusting another person with your life, do you feel more likely to trust others? Her response was yes and no.  She trusted Saidi with her life because he was experienced; he knew what he was doing. She knew foremost that he wanted her to get to the top of even more than she did. In addition, he listened to her if she expressed any concerns as they went up the mountain. She trusted him to tell her to turn back if it became a life or death situation.

An easy take away from this story is that anything can be accomplished through trust, right? But I think there are much more nuanced treasures to glean from this, both as a teacher and as a person who stutters.

As a teacher I want to build trust with my students, many of whom have had difficulty trusting teachers and other authority figures. Many have experienced traumatic situation in their homes or even at school and they are often on guard around adults. Each of the reasons Genise trusted Saidi with her life is something easily applied to a classroom. The one that jumps out first is ‘staying calm’. This can be particularly challenging when a student is having a ‘meltdown,’ but showing that you are there to support them whatever the situation is, can go a long way toward building trust. The next is ‘showing that you know what your are doing.’ How many times have we heard or said, “I don’t know what to do with you?” Those words hold a lot of meaning that we may not intend to convey. But I think the most important takeaway from is a willingness to listen to concerns and treat them respectfully. I think this builds trust, no matter the situation.
As a person who stutters, I am often on the other end of the trust dynamic. When I take the risk to stutter openly, I am putting trust in another person the moment I open my mouth. I am saying ‘I trust you enough to show you this really vulnerable and sensitive part of myself.’ I can’t help but wonder if there is reciprocity that comes naturally with trust? Will stuttering openly with my students, as I do, will help them come to trust me faster. I can’t help but believe it will.

Genise Mt K

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Advertising in the Classroom

Last year was a huge year for me in terms of accepting my stutter and becoming overt. I was lucky to be teaching the same kids for the second year in a row. These kids were used to me stuttering and were pretty nonplussed when I started talking about it. It helped that the class was all working on learning about disabilities and how to advocate for ourselves. While I was open with my students, I only disclosed to a few colleagues and I didn’t do a good job of telling parents. In fact I only told one parent that I stutter. Despite this, I have no regrets. It was a huge year for me and I’m proud of my accomplishments.

At the NSA conference this summer I attended 2 workshops that helped me with advertising. The first was titled ‘Coming out of the Covert Closet’. In this workshop we made a promise to ourselves to disclose to someone that we stutter. The other workshop involved going out into public and telling strangers that we are people who stutter and asking if they had any questions about that. Both of these workshops were completely out of my comfort zone and helped me grow. In fact, after the conference, I spent the rest of the summer sending out emails to colleagues, administrators and friends telling them all about my stuttering story, explaining about covert stuttering and talking about how I’m learning to own it.

Because I have a whole new group of students this year, I have a fresh opportunity to talk to parents. So far the two parents that I have talked to about it  have been pretty great. As part of our beginning of the year responsibilities, we are supposed to make contact (either in person or by phone) with the parents of every child on our caseloads. Thankfully I was able to speak in person to 4 of my students’ parents, but the rest will have to be called. This may be the part of my job I struggle with the most. I do know that from past experience, in other phone situations, disclosing that I am a person who stutters has made it much easier. I can only expect this will be the case.

I have found being open with my students about my stutter has been much easier so far this year. Because a large percentage of these students are on the autism spectrum, everything seems to be out in the open and up for discussion. I love this. On Friday I got stuck saying ‘snack’ and was informed by one of my favorite students that it took me exactly 12 tries to get it out. There was no judgment in this statement and I can only laugh at it.

I also spend a good bit of the day in the general education classrooms working collaboratively. I have a goal to be more of a co-teacher this year and speak up more often. This is a great opportunity to teach a large group of young people about stuttering. I can do this while serving as an example to my own students as well. I hope that they learn the benefits of sharing the aspects of themselves that make them unique.

This is just the beginning of this process. I expect to write another post as a follow-up as the year progresses.

Stuttering Isolationism

Just yesterday I spent over an hour talking with a Canadian friend who also stutters. Even though the call eventually dropped, it was so refreshing to talk to someone who understands blocks and allows time to finish thoughts. Unless you live in a large city, it’s really hard to make connections with other people who stutter. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a conference, support group meetings and meet people through social media, but not everyone has that kind of privilege. Many live in communities too small to form support groups, or don’t know that such a thing exists. People who stutter often become isolated and feel like they are an island among fluent speakers.

Initially, I was going to organize this post into external and internal factors that can cause this isolation, but I realized that there is so much interplay between these, that it’s almost impossible to decompose them in that way.

Perhaps the biggest factor that causes people who stutter to become isolated is the fact that stuttered speech is so stigmatized. Very early, we are taught that the way we talk is atypical and in need of correction. The therapy we receive in school is often in small private rooms away from the general population. This only compounds the idea that our speech is something to be ashamed of. Many of us learn that the only way to fit in is to do everything we can to hide our stutters. Unfortunately, that means that we are hiding from each other as well. Until a year ago, I was actually afraid to talk to anyone I suspected stuttered, because they might ‘out me’. How can we build community if we don’t even know who we are, or if we’re afraid to show it?!

Another factor that makes us feel alone is that we often feel fluent people don’t understand us. But have we really tried to educated them? Honestly, have you ever asked a fluent loved one or friend to try voluntary stuttering? I’ve even heard that while using delayed auditory feedback helps some of us not stutter, it can cause a fluent person to speak with a stutter. Perhaps things like this could help people understand us better so we didn’t feel so alone.

One thing that has always made me feel isolated was the lack of (or terrible) representation in media. I can count on one hand shows I watched as a kid that had any kind of character who stuttered, let alone realistically. I have no idea how this can be influenced, but it might help to encourage actors who stutter, to do so openly.

The last factor I will mention (this is not a comprehensive list)  is one we sadly do to ourselves. It’s natural to want to associate with others who share your belief systems and philosophies. Unfortunately, this can cause factionalization in a group. Camps such as fluency seekers and those who have fully accepted their stutters can become polarized and critical of each other when, in reality, there’s a lot of grey area between. I know I’m very guilty of this. We probably have much more in common with each other than we acknowledge and could spend more time in that middle ground.

So what can we do to build a stronger community? One place to begin might be to stop providing therapy for young children outside of the classroom. As a teacher of students with other disabilities, we are mandated to provide services in the least restrictive environment. Why can’t students who stutter work with a therapist (at least partially) in the environment where they spend most of their time?

We also need more support groups. Most of the existing groups are in large metropolitan areas, but small cities are perfect places because they can be accessed by more rural areas as well. Once they are established, we can use social media, local papers, and online resources to spread the word. Remember that many people don’t even know these groups exist; they just need to be reached out to.

There are countless other ways as well. Find a way to demand media representation (then tell me what you did). Educate fluent friends and family. Reach out through social media and participate in online conversations. Don’t let the excitement created at conferences die out. Lastly, stutter openly and boldly whenever and wherever you feel you can. How can we find each other if we’re hiding?

While thinking about this post, I decided to create a forum to positively discuss stuttering. I’ve seen a few other forums, but they are often places to share techniques and therapies. Join if you’re interested:

http://stutterplus.freeforums.net/