(Translation: Original in Hindi, here)
I am a Special Educator working with government schools in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. DIET is a state resource center for teachers at our district headquarter. DIET runs workshops for government teachers, to promote innovative methods of teaching and to make education more inclusive. DIET often invites experts and educationists, to such workshops. Recently DIET organized a ten-day workshop to sensitize teachers about the special Educational needs of children with disabilities. I am not a “renowned” expert and of course I was not invited.
Nevertheless, I said, who could be better person to talk about special needs of CWS in class rooms? So, I spoke to my supervisor about it. He said: Well, I see the logic but I wondered whether you will be able to conduct a session or not… so, I never bothered you.
Anyway, he promptly agreed and issued me a formal invitation too. The date was: 11th Jan 2017, Wednesday!
I got down to preparation. With whatever I had learned from my own experiences, while growing up with stammering plus whatever I could get from TISA website, I developed a simple powerpoint presentation on the special needs of CWS students. I also developed a One pager, and made 50 photocopies for distribution. I was ready for the D-day. But of course, in the background, a niggling thought kept looming: Will I be able to make sense to the teachers, who may have no personal experience of stammering? Will I be able to engage them?
11th Jan: I left home well in time, by 10 am. Kept thinking on the way: I wonder how the day will go today! Reached the venue in time and by 11 am most of the teachers (about fifty), the participants, were in the hall as well as three facilitators who knew me beforehand. After 5 minutes’ prayer, Mr Anand Dwivedi, the session in charge, introduced me to the audience and said: Today, we are going to talk about a speech impediment, which we understand very little about – stammering. Amit, who has dealt with this issue personally for many years, will be sharing about it. Please listen to him carefully.
My laptop was ready on the table. So, I stood up, despite palpitations, introduced myself and then concluded by saying: You all know a lot about children with mainstream disabilities. Today, I will tell you about children who stammer. THIS understanding will be relevant while dealing with children facing other issues as well. Of course, I was feeling unsure of myself and a little nervous. But I did have a plan.
I turned to the board and wrote one sentence: “Fluent speech is necessary for everyone”. Turning back to the audience, I asked: What do you think of this statement? Do you agree? Why and why not?
This initiated a discussion gradually. People warmed up. Some agreed. Some did not. A general but genuine discussion started among 50 teachers, who probably had come only to “listen”. Finally, I put a big cross in front of the statement on the board and summarized their inputs: Yes, It is NOT necessary to be fluent. What is more important is to COMMUNICATE effectively. Now they were listening to me with great attention. I had touched them somewhere deep within.
I threw second question: what is stammering? Again, many answers came. Many perspectives. I summarized the discussion and added my own inputs- that it is not just what you hear and see: it is a lot more hidden inside the child: fear, shame, guilt, avoidance etc. Then, we talked about popular beliefs. Finally, I shared that there is no medical CURE – but teachers can help the child develop a healthy social attitude.
I gave some “local” examples: A CWS may know that the capital of Madhya Pradesh is Bhopal. But if he is having difficulties, he may either keep quiet or say- “Indore”. In both cases, he will be seen as a dumbo, and this will affect his life in the long run. Now, I was using PowerPoint slides to show teachers various things they could do to help.
A female teacher, asked a searching question: Sir, can we cure a CWS’s stammering by using these interventions in class room and play ground? I thought for a moment and answered: Perhaps not. But we can certainly help him to develop better attitude towards speaking, towards relationships and help him to achieve good communication skills. She seemed satisfied!
Before winding up, I threw another of those deep questions at my audience: What would happen if all your fingers and thumb were the same size? After some rambling, everyone agreed that this will NOT be a reason to celebrate! We will certainly have difficulties in all manual tasks. I concluded: This is why Diversity among human beings is something to be valued and appreciated.
At last, many teachers asked for my mobile number, saying: we will get in touch with you, in case we need more ideas on this topic.
So, what have I learned from this great D-Day:
- What are we capable of? we get to know this truly, only when we step out of our comfort zone.
- By and large, I was calm. May be because, everyone knew that I stammer and I too was under no great pressure to hide my stammering. I had accepted the things as they were and within the given context, was trying to do my best: communicate.
- We often wonder: if I talk about stammering, will the other person be interested? Others will be interested ONLY if we MAKE our talk interesting. It is in our hand. Onus is on us.
- I did not have to do this. Not doing this session would not have affected my JOB or my salary. But I would never have known what I am capable of. It was an opportunity. I created it.
- I had often thought in the past: Who will give me, a junior, a pws, a chance in such a workshop? Now, I know that such opportunities are PLENTY. We just have to ask.
- We often imagine worst outcomes, whenever we have to speak. No wonder, that outcomes do become bad for us! They simply follow our expectations! Instead we should be thinking: Wow, what an opportunity! I am going to dazzle everyone…
- Instead of worrying about stammering all the time, I have worked on my presentation skills; I have made it more interactive and participatory.
- Finally, I feel good that a little courage on my part has led to better understanding about stammering among 50 teachers. Instead of blaming the society, thanks God, I have done my LITTLE bit, to make the world a better place for children who stammer.
Thank you for patiently reading this post.
Amit Singh Kushwaha, Satna, Madhya Pradesh. 09300939758