A Stutterer Who Became a Professor

Can Scholars with Speech Disorders Survive and Thrive in Academia?

Many years ago I studied humanities and social sciences as a young undergraduate student at a large public university where lectures, big and small, were the most common pedagogical methods in the classes I took. I loved the eloquent and passionate lectures delivered by my favorite professors. By my junior year in college, I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a professor, too, and examine the history of colonialism and race relations. I fell in love with the idea of teaching. I imagined myself standing before a room full of young students like myself, lecturing, leading a discussion, fielding questions, imparting knowledge, inspiring them, and maybe changing some of their lives like my professors had changed my life.

I fantasized about being a masterful lecturer then and I still fantasize about it. But I also knew then, and I know now, that I would never be able to speak as articulately and flawlessly as some of my professors in college. That’s because I am a stutterer. I have been a stutterer as far as I can remember (I don’t remember not being a stutterer). I grew up with a bad stammer that never went away. I continue to live with it and always will. I have good days and bad days as a stutterer; and plenty of bad moments even on many good days. Sometimes I stutter really badly, hardly able to get anything out of my mouth at all. On good days, I generally stutter less. Most of the time I can do a decent job of pretending not to be a stutterer even when I stutter. It has been a big part of me since the early years of my life. And over the years I have learned to be at peace with myself as someone who struggles to find his voice as a stutterer (more on my lifelong struggle with stuttering in a future post).

A Stutterer Becomes a Professor

And I have fulfilled a big part of my dream: I am a history professor who lectures regularly, although I still fantasize about speaking like my favorite professors did — charismatic, fluent, eloquent in style, and without annoying fillers such as “um” and “uh” that I utter just about every half a minute in an hour-long class. But I am okay with the way I talk now. I’ve realized that most good students judge the quality of my class based on its content rather than how stylish I am as a speaker. I know this not only because of the positive teaching evaluations I receive that far outnumber the bad reviews, but also because many years ago as a college student, I myself was really drawn to the substance of the content presented by my professors’ lectures rather than how skillful they were as public speakers. Their speech and stage presence enhanced the quality of their lectures, but what really mattered was their knowledge and passion. It was the way their lectures provoked, inspired, and challenged me to think differently that mattered the most. They just happened to be masterful public speakers who didn’t suffer from speech disorders. I may never be as articulate and stylish as they were as a lecturer, but I strive to be as knowledgeable and passionate as they were. So, I am happy to live my dream, however incomplete it may be.

To be continued…


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