Back to School, Not to Stuttering
By Kiran Cherukuri
With the curtain finally setting on this year’s “installment” of summer, kids and teens across the globe are heading back to school. Being a high school senior, I’ve faced plenty of back-to-school days, which can be filled with energy and joy of seeing old friends and taking new classes, but also with anxiety of returning to a place filled with need to talk to speak a lot. Going back to school can cause a lot of stuttering symptoms to flare up again, but fear not: there are ways to combat the stuttering beast that will try to creep along with you into the new year.
1. Start Small. When school starts, a lot of you may feel pressure to meet new people or participate in class, to make a good impression and start the year strong. However, if you’re not the type to go out of your way to make your voice heard in class, don’t worry. I find that sometimes, it’s best to start out small. Try meeting face-to-face with your teachers privately, and get to know them! You may not think so at times, but your teachers are some of the most caring people you will meet in school. They’ve probably encountered students who stutter before, and they know that it may cause some anxiety or stress, which they can help you manage. In addition to teachers, try talking to a few students in your classes as well (though not necessarily during class)! It doesn’t have to be a deep discussion; I’ve found that even short conversations about common courses or vacations can be a great confidence booster that could plant the seed for further talks in the future.
2. Join Teams. Perhaps the easiest way to reduce the anxiety and stress of stuttering in school is by joining a club or team. Participating in sports is a great way to become more comfortable around your classmates and develop stronger bonds with them. Personally, I feel that physical exercise actually helps reduce anxiety by spending some of your nervous energy, and channeling it elsewhere. When your focus is diverted from trying to speak perfectly, it’s often much easier to be comfortable talking with others. Clubs are another great platform to re-channel this energy. If sports aren’t your thing, club activities like yearbook or newspaper can help you in becoming comfortable in talking in small groups. When those people around you share your similar interests, the mutual passion for a subject will always trump the personal differences associated with stuttering.
3. Practice. This may be the hardest one, but it will definitely pay off in the long run. If you have to give a speech or presentation in school, the best way to prepare is to practice. Not just by reading notes or memorizing, but looking in the mirror, and physically acting out your presentation to yourself. By acting out my oral assignments, I’ve learned to use certain gestures and patterns in movement to counter my nervous energy. Also, practicing in front of a mirror will make you more comfortable with eye-contact. Oral practice time will further allow you to hear your speech, and allow you to make changes to it if certain sounds or words are difficult to enunciate. It may take a while, but practice time will pay off as a big confidence booster when that actual presentation date comes around.
4. Be Fearless. The most important tip. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through my struggles with stuttering is that stuttering shouldn’t control my life. If you love a club like debate or want to run for a leadership position, do it! Don’t let the fear of stuttering in front of others hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Every obstacle must be hurdled at one time or another, and pursuing your goals of public speaking or making fantastic speeches can be accomplished as soon as you put your mind to it. I know the hesitation you may have. I’ve been in the situation where I’ve been mortified at giving a class speech or thought that giving a student government address in front of my grade was impossible. However, I’ve done both and more, and even with the stuttering that occurred and the people that may have snickered, I look back at those experiences and smile. I smile because I tried and pushed myself, and that takes bravery. As hall of fame NFL star Ray Lewis once said, “Wins and losses come a dime a dozen. But effort? Nobody can judge that. Because effort is between you and you.” With that, go forth and conquer not just your fear, but the stuttering beast as well.
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Updated Sept. 10, 2014