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My Journey From Stuttering to Teaching

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Stuttering is a hidden disability and one which affects 1 percent of the world’s population. For many people who stutter, the world can be an intimidating place to live in and one where a stutterer can feel isolated. Renowned speech pathologist Joesph Sheehan talks about stuttering as being like an iceberg. People only see 10 percent of your stuttering (blocking, freezing or sound repetitions) and the other 90 percent is underneath the surface (shame, embarrassment, lacking confidence, sadness). The 90 percent, the part below the surface is often the hardest part for people who stammer.

As a stutterer myself, I used to feel feelings of anxiety and embarrassment every time I spoke. I felt alone and like no one could understand my situation. I left school and chose a course at college that involved little to no speaking, even though all I wanted to do was be a teacher. This feeling of wanting to be something and being forced to be something different was very difficult to take. I was frustrated at myself and frustrated at the world around me.

Then 11 years ago, I found a stuttering therapy course called The McGuire Programme. This is a unique therapy option as it is run for people who stutter by people who stutter. The course itself follows a rigorous four-day format and around 15 hours of intense speech work is squeezed in every day. This intensity means you give yourself every chance of making the changes needed to tackle your stammering. After my first course, everything changed for me. I no longer felt alone. I had a support community of other people who knew what I was feeling, including an extensive after-support network where a coach was only ever a phone call away should I have needed any advice or help.

The McGuire Programme taught me techniques to control my stutter, both physical and physiological. The physical techniques include a new way to breathe when speaking called costal breathing. It’s a type of breathing opera singers use. Breathing in this way gives power to your voice. Another important aspect of the McGuire technique is using an assertive tone when speaking — no holding back on sounds. The physiological techniques were about defeating the negative associations I had built up around speaking. This included speaking dysfluently in a controlled way. Being dysfluent on my own terms gave me the confidence that it is fine to speak differently from other people. It allowed me to stop hiding and to accept myself as a person who stutters. This shift in mindset was the most difficult change, but also the most important. I was finally accepting who I really am. By accepting myself as a person with a stutter, I was dealing with those feelings below the surface and melting away the 90 percent.

Around eight years ago I decided to retrain as a teacher and now work in a busy primary school in Glasgow. I decided to retrain and follow my dream as I felt I was at a stage where my speech, my stuttering, no longer has a impact on how I live my life and in turn would no have an impact on giving children a solid education. I am very open and honest about my disability with colleagues, parents and children. I teach children that it is perfectly acceptable to be different, and I believe that gives hope to people who themselves struggle with barriers to achieving their full potential. Parents of children in schools where I have worked appreciate that their child is seeing a person being honest about who they are, warts and all. I have also been selected as the Equality and Diversity representative for Glasgow teachers, a voluntary role. This role means I can speak to others in the profession about any issues they may have around equality and diversity This is something I certainly never imagined I’d be doing previously.

Since accepting my hidden disability, I have achieved things I never thought I could achieve. I have presented at academic conferences — relaying data from my master’s level qualification, I have given a best man speech and I’ve given a speech at my own wedding. It’s also the little things, like ordering a takeaway or getting my train ticket.

Over the past 11 years I have dedicated much of my spare time to promote awareness of stammering and to reduce the stigma around speaking to people who stutter. This has included me sharing my story in newspapers, radio and on live TV on several occasions. I also take opportunities to present on stuttering at teacher conferences. I do this in an attempt to “normalise” stuttering to teachers who have told me they are often uncomfortable dealing with children who stammer in their class. Small tips or ideas to make the learning process more enjoyable or accessible to children who stutter is something I will happily do for the rest of my life. If it helps one child every time I speak, then I’ve done something worthwhile. This work raising awareness of stammering resulted in me receiving a British Citizen Award in January 2017 for my services to education.

My final message would be to embrace your quirks; they make you who you are. When I finally did that, I started to like myself and my life a whole lot more.

Getty photo by Monkey Business Images.

Originally published: March 12, 2018
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