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In front of the class

Rammesh Summan | 01.03.2010

Ramesh Summan, who lectures in a further education college, talks about the strategies he finds helpful in his job.

Teaching a classI have had ambitions of becoming a teacher since childhood. At heart I have always felt an enthusiasm to support others' learning and facilitate people in reaching their life's potential. But at the same time since my childhood I have had a stammer. On graduation from University I set about becoming a teacher by applying for teaching positions nationwide, and on gaining a teaching job was offered an opportunity to do a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) at the University of East Anglia which I completed in June 2009.

After teaching Business and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at a medium-sized college in Norfolk, I made the transition to a larger further education college in Hertfordshire in the summer - a challenge which I firstly found daunting due to the larger class numbers and a new set of learners which I had never taught before. However, I feel I have learnt a lot in terms of my own communication. In my first few weeks at the College I realised that communicating to a larger class required more fluent and clearer methods of communication. As someone who stammers, I really needed to work on making myself more fluent, which I feel I've been able to do by using the strategies below. I also found (as have other teachers I've spoken to) problems of learners showing disrespect towards the teacher due to the stammer.

When learners have built rapport with me they respect me as a teacher regardless of whether I stammer

The strategies which I have used to manage these issues in my class are firstly effective planning and use of resources, secondly strong emphasis on building a rapport with learners, and thirdly relaxation techniques.

The strategy of effective planning and the efficient use of resources such as Interactive whiteboards was actually given to me by my Speech and Language Therapist. I ensure that I have devised a class profile to give me an understanding of the learners in my class, and a learning plan which outlines what the lesson aims to achieve and how I intend to achieve the aims. In practice I have found that this is an effective strategy because I have planned in advance what will happen during the lesson, and this reduces any anxiety I may have before stepping foot in the classroom, reducing my stammer.

I also see it as very important to build good rapport with the learners I teach, i.e. to build a bond and attachments with them. I do this by aiming to do my job competently (learners tend to disrespect teachers they see as poor) and by understanding the learners and their needs. I have found that in most instances, when learners have built rapport with me they respect me as a teacher regardless of whether I stammer in class or not.

My Speech and Language Therapist also introduced me to relaxation techniques. In order to relax myself before my classes, I normally listen to music on my MP3 player or use deep breathing techniques. Other relaxation strategies I have used, which I also find effective, are self-hypnosis or phoning a friend. These help me feel more relaxed and secure in my teaching, which reduces my anxiety and facilitates me in controlling my speech.

The biggest problem which I have experienced in the classroom as a teacher who stammers has been learners picking up on my stammer and using it to form jokes, such as "R-R-Ramesh" and "Y-Y-Yes Ramesh." However, I feel I have managed this issue professionally and effectively. From the very first lesson, I told learners about my stammer and discussed it openly. Also, I feel I've been able to keep my focus on the job when learners do tell jokes and in some instances made fun of my situation; I've taken the approach of ignoring it and not letting it affect me. I've found that accepting and being open about my stammer has actually helped me build solid rapport with my learners. A learner in my class commented that by me accepting my stammer, it has enabled me to be more empathic and supportive towards their own problems.

Teaching can be seen as a demanding career by people who stammer. However, I feel that with the use of effective strategies and the correct attitude they can become great teachers and a real valuable asset to the profession.

From the Spring 2010 issue of Speaking Out, page 13