Make Room For The Stuttering

On Being Covert

Posted on: February 17, 2009

This was a post I made to the covert-S email group about six months ago.

I wanted to share a cool experience I had this week. I work in a high school, and we have many different programs. I am officially assigned to work with Career Tech programs and students, but I do what I can with special need students, as needed. One of the special need teachers heard I was making my way around the building to all of the career classes doing workshops on workplace behavior & sexual harassment prevention. She asked me if I would address her class.I arranged to do it Tuesday afternoon.

There were 8 kids in class, and to say they were climbing the walls would have been an understatement. All of them have ADHD, in addition to other learning challenges. One kid – 16 yrs old – was lying across 3 tables, with his head resting on a piece of tree trunk that they were trying to study. He refused to get up. The teacher was noticeably upset, punchy, and downright loopy. I felt really apprehensive about trying to teach sexual harassment to these guys.

I overheard them casually making fun of each other, as if they did it all the time. The teacher was having a hard time trying to reign them in. I started trying to get their attention, and got all but the one lying on the table to come over and sit at the round table. I began casually chatting with them, asking them about their day, what they had been doing in class earlier, etc.

They started warming up to me, when they saw I was just kind of rapping with them.I started to switch gears and talk about harassment, bullying and teasing, and asked if it had ever happened to them. One or two started talking about being teased in this very school. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the teacher was relaxing, and “table boy” was listening while trying to pretend he really wasn’t. After a few minutes, we just started talking about being teased and how it feels. Table boy came over and joined us.

At that moment, I decided to tell them about my stuttering, and how I was teased as a kid, and sometimes still get teased as an adult, They were all paying attention, listening and making eye contact, which, with ADHD kids, is not always easy to do. I told them how it feels to be laughed at, and some of the things I do when someone laughs at me, like telling people to stop, it hurts my feelings. For 10 minutes, you could have heard a pin drop – they were listening. No one asked me any questions about stuttering, but no one laughed or giggled, they just listened. We never got to talk about sexual harassment. I will save that lesson for another day. The teacher was able to get on with her science lesson after I was finished.

She mouthed a thank-you to me as I left. I felt really good about doing this.

These are two responses I got from readers on the covert list!

Congratulations, Pam! Once again you demonstrated how good you are with young people and how you used your stuttering to reach out and connect with them. I, for one, would never have known what to do (I’d be likethat teacher!), but you were able to connect with them and reach them in away that others could not. I think your approach of getting to know them and making them feel comfortable with you will go a long way toward beingable to teach them the information you were supposed to give them on that first visit.I have a friend who teaches high-school students and he uses the scar on his wrist from an attempted suicide a long time ago to show students he understands their struggles (he’s fine now). Anything we can do to connect can help!

Pam, This is really great. People really do listen when we talk about how it feels. You’re brave to bring so much of your personal story into the dialog, but that’s what touches people the most.
As a college teacher, I encourage students to bring their personal life experiences into anthropology by modeling that myself—and one way is to talk about my covert (mostly) stutter and how I feel in social situations. I’ve found I have to be clear about WHY I’m telling my story—not so I can feel heard by somebody, not so I can vent my frustrations, but so that they can understand a very different experience from their own and take lessons from it into their lives. It’s for them, not for me. It sounds like you do that too.
I’ve hardly posted to this listserv, but your account really touched me .

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