Beyond the imperfections

11th April 2008 at 01:00
I knew I could be a teacher when I took an assembly at my daughter's school. I spoke about stammering. It's something I know a lot about. I have stammered all my life.

Most of us stammer occasionally. Many children stammer and grow out of it. I did not leave mine behind, and it is a regular part of the way I speak. I spent 15 years as a solicitor, advising clients, leading negotiations and putting cases in court. Stammering wasn't exactly helpful, but I learnt to live with it. I'm not always fluent, but I'm not lost for words either.

Now I've changed careers, and I'm on a PGCE course in primary education. I've taken my first clumsy lessons, and I'm more worried about timing, planning and using the interactive whiteboard than the way I speak. I have also realised that for once my stammer can help me.

When I introduce myself to a class for the first time, I like to explain my stammer. I like to show children what it is like when I want to say something but the word won't leave my mouth, when my lips feel like they're glued together. I show that sometimes I backtrack - start again in the hope that this time the words will come out right - or slip in unnecessary "starter" words or sounds. Children are fascinated. First they watch and listen, and then they start to try blocking for themselves. After I gave the assembly at my daughter's school, stammering was talked about in many classrooms and homes, too.

Like any other trainee teacher, I must learn how to help children communicate, but I feel that I have a head start. I know what it feels like when I can't get through. In dealing with my stammer, I've learnt a lot about communicating properly. Perhaps by being an imperfect speaker, I am saying that imperfection is acceptable in my classroom, and in the world outside.

I'll need strategies in the classroom for dealing with difficult speaking situations - for example the quickfire maths starter, a short sharp question that kick-starts a lesson. Mainly children are open and tolerant, but I'm prepared for negative comments and suspicion, particularly from children who don't know me. I must remember not to say that I speak in a "funny way" - the last time I did that one little boy spent the next 20 minutes laughing at me.

Charles Robinson is studying for a primary PGCE at the University of Hertfordshire.

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