For my sophomore year of high school, I started attending a private Christian school after using a distance learning program from home for about seven years. Although I decided to finish my last two years using this distance learning program, my short time at the school impacted my life tremendously. Not only did I make great friends, but I also had a wonderful teacher. This teacher’s kindness, gentle pushes to challenge myself, and constant encouragement gave me confidence to speak without fear.
After being out of traditional school for so long, I was extremely nervous about going back. How will people react to my stutter? How will I possibly make it through mandatory oral presentations? Will my teacher understand? The first day of school was an emotional rollercoaster. My heart was bursting with excitement, yet racing with anxiety. As I walked up to the entrance, a few tears trickled down my cheek, but I quickly pulled myself together. I determined that day would be a beautiful start to a new journey, no matter how scared I felt.
A few hours in, I could finally breathe again. I realized I didn’t have anything to worry about, because everyone was so nice. My classmates might have immediately noticed I spoke differently, but nobody treated me differently or made me feel distant because of it. However, what put my heart at the most peace was my teacher’s response. My parents had let him know ahead of time about my stutter, but I still didn’t know how he would respond when I was actually standing there in front of him, fighting with all my heart to answer his simple question.
Time and time again throughout that school year, my teacher handled my stutter with so much grace, patience and kindness. When I spoke to him, he never — ever — averted his eyes or even looked away for a second. He would always just smile and nod in a way that made me feel like there wasn’t even anything different about the way I spoke. He made me feel at ease with myself. He never pitied my stutter, but rather, gently pushed me to challenge myself in new ways. He always listened with so much intent, patience and genuine concern, no matter how long it took me to ask for what I needed. Most of all, he didn’t exempt me from doing the things that I feared most; rather, he gave me the confidence to do the things I feared most.
I still had to give all the oral presentations and speeches, and I am so thankful for that. Without being made to do those things, I know I never would have. I never would have learned and grown as much as I did from pushing myself so far out of my comfort zone. Before my speeches, he always encouraged me to take my time and to be confident in what I had to say. And as I stood up there in front of the class, I could always count on the fact that he would be standing in the back of the room with a smile on his face.
To my sophomore year teacher, if you ever read this, thank you. Thank you for being so kind, and most of all, thank you for giving me the confidence to stutter.
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