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Working with primary children

| 01.09.2010

Lisa loves her work as a teaching assistant in a primary school. She talks about dealing with her stammer, and the great support she receives from colleagues.

I'm a teaching assistant at a primary school and have been for almost 4 years. I've been one year at my current school where I support a hearing impaired child along with other TA duties, and it's a job I absolutely love.

I was finding hiding it mentally exhausting, and it was affecting me at work and socially.

I had always hidden my stammer, using all the normal avoidance strategies and tricks. However, my stammer was increasing in severity due to personal stress. I was finding hiding it mentally exhausting, and it was affecting me at work and socially. Then I had a job interview for a new TA role, and although I didn't talk about the stammer I did allow my stammer to be heard a couple of times, and just said that it happens sometimes. Thankfully I got the job, and decided this was a good time for me to be open with my speech at work.

Supportive colleagues

A TA's role is mainly supporting the class teacher, through preparation of materials, taking groups for lesson work and general back up for all situations. The class teacher and the other TA in my classroom are so supportive and they have really tried to understand how it feels to have a stammer. Although I have always carried out any task asked of me within my role, they are aware that there are situations I might struggle with. I am extremely grateful for their support and I hope I make up for it with skills in other areas.

The other TA has become a good friend and she is always interested to hear about stammering. She also jumps in if she can see I'm getting stuck, which I find helpful though I appreciate not everyone who stammers would like this. We sometimes have a joke about it too, well you have to sometimes especially when the topic is 'Antarctica' making 'Paper Mache penguins' and Egypt making 'Pyramids' and 'Papyrus' writing.

My headmistress has also been very supportive as I have approached her about attending some therapy and it might be in school time. She was interested to hear about it and expressed how therapy would also benefit the school as it would have a positive effect in my work. I'm very grateful for her acceptance and understanding in this.

Expanding range

So I manage most of the tasks asked of me. I've been using 'Stammering Non-Avoidance Day' the last Friday of every month, to help expand the range of what I do. One example was not avoiding when I had to take the register. I usually got the children to say their names in the correct order, but instead I said all the names myself, even the really tricky ones!

However there are still some things I'm not comfortable doing at the moment, for my sake or the children's. I really dislike reading stories, unless it's one I've learnt off by heart or one I can change the words to. The older the children get, the wiser they become and they know if you're switching things. I did try once to read a chapter book and was getting so stuck one of the children asked if he should take over because I couldn't read the words. Bless him we did have a laugh and it was good reading practice for him. Deep down though it upset me and I was embarrassed by it. The other thing is having supply teachers come in, as there sometimes is explaining to do regarding children and where they're at on a task. Some I find are patient, but others are extremely uncomfortable and cut me off completely. But that's just one of the things you learn to live with if you stammer.

up until a certain age the children are so honest and matter of fact about everything and say it as it is

So back to children. They are indeed funny things, because up until a certain age they are so honest and matter of fact about everything and say it as it is. I remember a little girl in a group I was working with ask why I said her name funny, it began with a 'J'. So I explained that my brain gets a little confused and then the words get stuck and need just a little time to get out, I also added that she could help me and say the word because I don't mind that. She accepted this without another thought and a little while later when I got stuck on another name, she jumped in and explained to the other child and that was that within my class.

The hardest thing I find is the older children. I work with 7/8 year olds, which are fine, but above this it does get trickier and I do dread having to speak to them and stammer, as I have been mimicked and laughed at. But I'm an adult and I just ignore it, as I have all my life. After all it's down to me to educate them in issues regarding any differences, and kids will be kids - it's human nature. But every now and again it does get me down as it makes me feel inadequate and a bit of a failure.

Overall after being in a career from leaving school which I hated, but was a comfort zone, I am finally doing a job I love in a brilliant school, with fantastic colleagues. Just watching the children's faces enjoy and take in all the various topics, activities and information being taught is worth everything.

From the Autumn 2010 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 15