Reflecting back on the past two years as a classroom teacher, I've made a lot of personal growth. When I first started teaching I used a lot of speech tools and techniques that hindered what I wanted to say. I spent more energy on attempting fluency than on actually teaching. With the help of the Did I Stutter Project and a very supportive administration, I no longer view my stutter as an obstacle but as an asset. The only speech tool I use regularly now is advertising. And I prefer to call it advocating. Self advocacy is something I try to instill in all my learners, whether they have a disability or not.
I can't deny that I face challenges daily. I have difficulty with /s/, /p/, /m/ and /r/ sounds and math vocabulary abounds with them: symmetry, multiply, parallel, remainder, to name just a few. There is no using circumlocution to avoid these as they are crucial words for my students to hear, use, and understand. This doesn't even account for all the other communication that needs to happen throughout the day to ensure an organized, peaceful, and welcoming learning environment. In addition to regular classroom duties I, am responsible for calling parents, speaking up in meetings, and even addressing assembly.
At the beginning of this school year I sat down with my new students and talked about the things that make us unique. I spoke honestly about stuttering and why some people speak this way. I made sure they understood that I'm not uncomfortable and they can always ask me to repeat myself if they don't understand what I've said. We talked about the etiquette of conversation and how you should never finish anyone's sentences for them even if you think it's helpful. I also talked to them about being gay and from New Jersey because these too make me unique. I encourage my students to find the things about themselves that make them unique and to have pride in those things.
As I said before, I truly believe my stutter makes me a better communicator. Because I speak slowly and with a lot of blocks and repetitions, students are able to process what I say more easily. I can't bolt through a long set of instructions for example. I also employ an economy of words. My students aren't used to me talking at length so I think they listen more carefully when I do speak. I believe I have become a much more creative and careful thinker as well, because my mental energy is no longer spent on attempting fluency. Additionally, I've become a better advocate for myself and for my students in terms of accommodations.
My classes are a mix of learners with various needs--from students with identified high incidence disabilities (specific learning disabilities, ADHD and Autism) to those identified as needing enrichment through the gifted and talented program. Some of my students fit in both exceptionalities as well. I am a strong believer in Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. Rather than lecture, I use hands-on discovery, games, songs (I play guitar and sing math songs at least once a week), kinesthetic movement activities, projects, and practical applications like cooking and building, to deliver and reinforce new concepts. This can take hours of preparation and careful planning, but I think it makes for a much more varied, child-centered learning environment.
Of course I do occasionally have to introduce a new concept in the more traditional ‘teacher in front of the classroom’ model. In these instances I often use videos (I’m a huge fan of Learnzillion), text reading apps, animation apps (Tellagami is my favorite) and other technology to help me effectively communicate in the most efficient way possible. These tools are often referred to as assistive technology: any item, piece of equipment or product that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. You'll notice that I don't include AT specifically designed for people who stutter like those that provide delayed auditory feedback, because fluency is not my mission, but rather effective, comfortable communication.
My hope is that when I use AT in the classroom it eliminates any stigma for students who chose to use it as well. Many of my students use Virtual Manipulatives and I have several students who are not strong readers or writers who benefit from such apps as Dragon dictation, Announcify, and Google read/write. As I learn about new tools and apps, I introduce them to all my students as something they might be interested in trying. I have been criticized by some colleagues for this, but I remind them that autocorrect and calculators are types of AT and ask if they are willing to give those up. I offer alternative formats for all exams and presentations as well. Because there is no stigma, I have many non-disabled students who prefer to use AT or alternative exams/presentations because of the novelty.
What makes me the most satisfied as a teacher is not when I find out all my students have passed their standardized tests, but rather when they tell me they love coming to my class. And truthfully, this happens a lot. I think having a teacher who both shows pride in his stuttering and who models the use of assistive technology can only help to confirm that people with disabilities can perform as well or even better than non-disabled people in their jobs.