“Popcorn! Julian, it’s your turn to read. Can you make sure you-makesureyoudon’t…read like this…like the-th-this again?”
If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, I would probably be able to pay for speech therapy classes. But money doesn’t really come easily to third graders, so I continued to put up with my classmates’ mockery as I stuttered and stumbled over another paragraph in Charlotte’s Web. I hated every second of reading out loud. I hated my voice, I hated my stutter, I hated that the tears welled up in my eyes and the quiver in my voice drew even more attention to my incompetence.
Every other week, a counselor would single me out from the class and summon me to the office for private speech assessments. She was supposed to help evaluate my reading comprehension and speech, but the evaluations were ultimately a source of humiliation. As I recited a passage about bumblebee hive behavior, I couldn’t help but focus on her red pen, leaving notes on every word and phrase I faltered upon. I failed to finish the passage under the standard time and shamefully looked at the counselor’s papers, which almost seemed to have more red than white.
This behavior continued throughout middle school and high school. I avoided reading out loud. I feared oral presentations and impromptu speeches. I dreaded the moments where teachers would call on me even though I never raised my hand. So much effort was spent trying to hide a problem I desperately needed help with.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t school that encouraged me to tackle this issue; it was my friends. Those who were closest to me knew my strengths and weaknesses and how to work with them. Lunch breaks were spent reading through English class handouts over a shared box of crackers. I’d bumble my way through books between sips of bubble tea. My friends never pushed me to force out an answer I wasn’t ready for, but rather patiently waited until I could formulate a quality response to questions or statements they posed. They taught me to be kind to myself, creating an environment tailored to my needs and learning style.
My stuttering had faded by the time I entered university. The slip-ups still happen, but people don’t notice unless I point it out. It’s a bad habit, saying “Sorry, I keep messing up what I’m trying to say,” when I know university students are much more forgiving. As my speaking abilities grew, so did my confidence.
I feel empowered being able to contribute to class discussions. I could unashamedly raise my hand in my Core Class, building off of other students’ ideas and encouraging those who are more soft-spoken or struggle with speaking like I did. The thought of speeches and presentations still gives me shivers, but I’m slowly learning to get over that too. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made.