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Once more into the deep

Mark Lyn | 01.06.2009

Mark Lyn was teaching at a school for young people with behavioural issues when he decided to stop using his fluency techniques. He reflects on the experience.

Mark Lyn"You stammering motherf***er" was what he shouted down the corridor as he left my classroom. It had been coming - it wasn't really a surprise but that didn't make it any easier to take.

I had left London last year and returned to my home town up north. I had stayed in Special Education, working as a teacher with pupils who present with challenging behaviour. What I had changed was that I was no longer trying to hide my stammer. Everything had started off well, I stammered whilst being interviewed, I stammered on my first day and in those crucial first lessons, I stammered and stammered well and my speech started to become more fluent. Unfortunately, with time, my natural insecurities started to undermine me and I started blocking on more and more words; I think I wasn't able to stabilise my emotions sufficiently. Deep inside I had always known that I wasn't a mild stammerer at all, but the stammer seemed to be moving beyond moderate now.

I had come to this juncture based on my experiences. I had tired of always being watchful and careful, especially so in my working environment where there is very little privacy. You're really expected to spend all day with the kids - especially lunch times! Also I had learned on a recent holiday to Germany with friends that if you gave up all the controlled speech stuff and just spoke away, eventually the stammer would disappear completely.

Start where you are

Choosing to 'come out' in one of the toughest Special Schools for 14 - 16 year olds I have experienced wasn't the best place, maybe. A part of me thinks that it really doesn't make any difference; start where you are - perhaps better to start at the deep end anyway. And what of the young man who shouted the abuse? I could have gone to the Head Teacher, but then I did choose to work in such an environment knowing that I had a stammer and that the nature of the work may well lead to verbal abuse of this kind. Wouldn't that be rather like asking for special treatment because of my disability? I had seen the Head having to put up with worse herself for her own apparent failings. Had I not wanted to be treated equally for who I was - well, this was part of it, right?

"I knew the nature of the work may well lead to verbal abuse of this kind."

I have returned to using more controlled speech now because I was losing my way ' though it's difficult to completely put the genie back into the bottle. I openly stammer more than before - not a bad thing - and now the secret is out yes some kids do sometimes still tease, name calling is part of what they do. Just as commonly however, I understand that some students appreciate the expression of humanity in my stammer as a reflection of a real life lived, much akin to their own, often troubled existences.

I think essentially what I have realised is that all my life I have tried harder and harder to become a non-disabled person, only to experience my boundaries and potential being limited to the extent that I can pull this off, rather than letting loose my own abilities when being myself - which includes being a disabled person. I think I can excel in other ways that I'm just beginning to imagine.

I think also, if I'm being honest for just a moment, my attempt at 'coming out' was an attempt to be free totally from being bothered about how I speak, rather than accepting that speaking for me often presents a mental trouble that I will have to deal with, that isn't going to go away; it's just a very real part of my disability. I will always often be troubled by how I speak. This bit I have to own also.

From the Summer 2009 issue of Speaking Out, page 7.