Friday, November 04, 2011

Stuttering in the Classroom / Stadaireacht sa Seomra Ranga

Having had a debilitating stutter right into my twenties, I identify with Philip Garber, the stuttering teenager who was asked to modify his classroom behavior at a community college. A bright student, I was frequently angry at teachers for not calling on me, or for moving on to other students as soon as I began to stutter. I consequently spent half my school days with my hand in the air, daring my teachers to ignore me. Speech therapy helped greatly, however, and I am now a university professor with a full teaching load (linguistics!).
Several years ago I had a student with a stutter equally as bad as mine had been. Despite his stutter, this student nevertheless wished to answer every question I posed the class and often interrupted other students. His answers were long, excruciating, and often unintelligible. More than most, I could sympathize, having been in the same position myself. His constant desire to participate in the class, however, severely affected my ability to teach, and I considered sending him an email similar to the one Elizabeth Snyder, the community college professor, sent Mr. Garber. I was literally seconds away from sending it when I was reminded of the irreversibility of email. I deleted the email and, several days later, took the student aside after class for a discussion.
But for my decision that day, I could now be in Elizabeth Snyder's position. She wanted to make her classes more bearable for everybody (Mr. Garber included) and thought that her suggestions would help. Instead she ended up being vilified on the front page of a national newspaper.
Stuttering is horrible for everybody, both speaker and listener alike. Nobody wants to hurt stutterers further, and Ms. Snyder certainly had only the best intentions when she sent her email.

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