Best Words I Stuttered in 2017
Two quick observations I have concerning Disney’s The Little Mermaid:
- Prince Eric is sexist.
- Ursula > Ariel.
If you are still unsure about #1 after living through 2017, you are beyond all help, but I will explain my second point. Ursula was better than Ariel because she understood the true value of a voice. My life-long stuttering problem robbed me of my own words through most of my life, so I would never have voluntarily traded something so important to me for some guy (especially not Prince Eric).
For 33 years, I stutteringly cursed my stuttering, but a slow, haunting realization dawned on me earlier this month… I feel gratitude for it. It has made me a better friend, teacher, and person. In the spirit of this newfound mindfulness, I’ve compiled a “Best of” list of the words I am most grateful for stuttering this year.
Word 1: Meghan RB
When I speak, I’m constantly thinking of the words and phrases several beats ahead of what I am currently saying. My brain “sees” my stream of words in a type of bottom-of-the-screen, scrolling news bar format. As the words approach my mouth, sometimes they get jumbled and stick to each other in a messy ball, like refrigerator word magnets shoved inside a Ziplock bag. I often can’t untangle them quickly enough to get the words out smoothly, so I stutter.
I’ve learned to notice these upcoming troublesome words and quickly replace them with a synonymous word or phrase that side-steps the impending stutter. My vocabulary allows me to do this fairly effectively, with just one issue: Your name is your name. When I went on a job interview this summer, what do you think the first question was? “What would you like us to call you?” I could not just replace my name with a synonym like “woman” or “teacher,” making my name, Meghan RB, the hardest word of that interview… and of the entire English language, basically.
We have names so we can engage and share our identities with each other, but for years, the prospect of awkwardly stuttering through my own name kept me from introducing myself, unless absolutely necessary, to people.
However, as a teacher, you cannot neglect greeting your students with respect and still expect to establish trusting relationships with them. In my first year of teaching, I quickly realized that I had to reveal myself and my stutter to my students because they were going to see right through anything else anyway.
I let myself stutter in front of them, and I talked openly about my struggle with this disability. I wrote in front of them all year, and some of my stories included very personal anecdotes about stuttering because it is a part of me and my history. Soon, I realized that my students were being just as vulnerable and learning to love writing down their life stories, as well.
I still cannot usually say my name on command, but who cares? People aren’t meeting my name or my stutter; they are meeting me, and I’m meeting them.
Word #2: Librarian
You know the job interview I mentioned above? Despite the fact that I even stuttered when saying the job title “librarian,” I still got hired! This is my first year as a school librarian!
One of my other time-tested tricks to stop a stutter in its tracks used to be acting like the word I wanted to say was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn’t think of it at that moment. “My lunch is in the…the… ya know, the cold thing in the teachers’ lounge where we keep our lunches (*sheepish smile, disingenuous eyebrow frown, silly shoulder shrug*)?” Yes. I’ve actually said this. Essentially, I would pretend to be stupider than I was to get the other person to guess the word and say it for me, so I wouldn’t have to stutter it.
My new job has made me realize that I don’t want to sound idiotic anymore. I’m the LIBRARIAN — keeper of all books, seeker of all knowledge, perceiver of your next favorite novel! I cannot ruin my good standing as a patron-assisting librarian by deferring to others in solvable predicaments, like saying the word “refrigerator.”
Now, if I know I’m going to stutter on a word, I just say something like, “I know the word, but my stutter is stopping me from saying it.” Honesty. Hmm. It actually works. People will still usually say the word to help me out, but I’m a lot more confident now that I can show I’m actually highly-educated and well-qualified for my new job.
Word #3: Citizens
A hot term in the education world right now is “digital citizens.” Librarians in my district are even devising a curriculum to help students navigate (online and offline) as well-informed, productive, and kind members of our society.
Our foundation for these digital citizenship skills is teaching our students how to ask questions. There are certain questions that are rightfully getting a lot of the spotlight right now, such as “Is this source unbiased and reliable?” or “Is someone trying to sell me something here?” But we also need to focus on how to ask each other well-meaning and productive questions instead of just assuming we know the nuances of similar or opposing viewpoints.
I have a lot of practice asking questions. As far as I’ve always been concerned, the less I’m required to talk during a conversation, the better. This applies to every oral communication I have- from political discourse to individual writing conferences with my students. I’ve learned that well-intentioned, well-directed questions caused my speaking partners to reflect upon their own thinking more and to penetrate their own armor, opening up to me.
For you, what is the most important part of your message? How did you discover this information? Where could you improve upon the delivery of your statements? Why might others disagree with your stance on the issue?
My curiosity makes them more curious about why they think what they think, and they clarify or adjust their stance as they process their reasoning to themselves and to me. In this way, I connect with students (and people, in general) and let them come to their own realizations with only occasional guidance questions from me.
These days, our students need to be able to communicate effectively with people, who they may never meet face-to-face or even ever know their real identities, so students need to be able to connect with people in a straightforward, reasonable manner that cuts to the heart of who these fellow citizens are and what ideas they may be peddling. How can our students possibly do this task without a firm grasp of quality questioning of others? We need citizens who converse with each other, not shout aimlessly into the void of the Internet and ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
Even though I will always struggle to say “citizens,” I never want my students to struggle to be good citizens to each other. The future of our country depends on it.
Word #4: Read
Yeah, God has a sense of humor. He made a girl, who loves to read and loves to teach others to read, unable to say the word “read.”
I can escape for hours into a book where I imagine myself as any one of the characters, who never stutter. I even daydream constantly because the conversations I have with others in my head aren’t littered with signs of a speech impediment. I’m just free to express myself exactly how I want. The only other place I have that freedom is in my writing.
However, all my reading and writing and daydreaming aren’t just proof that I know my way around escapism, they have also made me more empathetic to my students.
All my students also lead rich inner-lives where they hope and dream, and they are all faced with the same task of figuring out the best way for them to articulate these hopes and dreams to people. It is my job to help them discover how they best communicate and create meaning for themselves. Then, I empower them to use their voice, or painting, or dancing, or writing, or whatever fits them best to express themselves fully in the world. It is not my job to force students to show their understanding in multiple-choice options, written essays, oral reports, or any of the other predetermined boxes they’re asked to squeeze their thoughts inside without regard to whom these thoughts originated inside.
What if we actually heard what was inside our students’ heads? What if we actually allowed them their individualized paths to show us? Communication may be a two-way street, but we all use different vehicles to best drive our points across. If we aren’t handing over the keys to our students now, they’ll never go down the right road.
In the end, the truth is every word I’ve said this year was the best. I appreciate every act of communication, and I appreciate every person who communicates with me. Even if you don’t have a stutter, when you think of all the obstacles there are to good communication with your students (or family, or friends, or co-workers, etc), good communication seems almost magical.