For many kids across the United States, the first week in September is the start of a new school year. In my household, my son is a new 8th grader and his cousin is entering the 6th grade. Over the last few days, my son has been asking about the costs of a college education, and I found it only right to tell him that it doesn’t come cheap, but it won’t be something he’ll have to worry about. All he needs to worry about is being an excellent student.

I vaguely remember my first 2 years of elementary school in Rochester, NY. It seems as though my memories of school didn’t start until moving to New Jersey when I entered the 3rd grade. My parents were going through a separation and I was a nervous wreck. I also remember being scolded for writing in cursive because the other students weren’t at that level yet. I hated writing in print, I thought why did I spend so many hours getting my hands hit with a ruler by my father because I wrote sloppy, to only be forced to write in print. What a rip off. All of that hard work for nothing. The scolding I received from that teacher because I wouldn’t comply with her rules and the anxiety of moving to a new area made me retreat into a shell.

By 4th grade, I developed a stutter.

I wish I could remember my 4th grade teacher at Hurden Looker Elementary in Hillside, NJ, but her name escapes me right now. One day she asked me to stand in front of the class and speak. I slowly walked up with my head down, because I knew what would happen. Up until this moment, I was able to hide the fact that I had a stutter. As I started to speak, my words started to jump over themselves, but in my head I sounded normal.

Laughter erupted from the classroom. Then my tears started flowing. My teacher walked me back to my desk, and whispered in my ear that she wanted to speak with me after class. Once the students left, she sat down next to me, and asked me to write down what I wanted to say in class. So I wrote. By the time I was finished my paper was soaked with tears. She took my paper and read it to herself and handed it back to me and said, “Your gift is in your writing, but something has broken your voice. Never let them break your voice.” She picked up my backpack and took me to the classroom next door, where I met my soon to be Speech Therapist.

My speech therapist wasn’t the most conventional. In speech class I really didn’t have to do much talking. We played music, and he always had his walkman. One day he made me wear the walkman while reading out loud. And then it happened.

During my 4th grade year, Mrs. Adams (I had to call and ask an old classmate her name) made me her project. She taught me to walk proudly and hold my head up high. She made sure I was in speech class everyday. When the last day of school came around, we all had to stand in front of the class and talk about our summer plans. I took my pad and proudly walked up to the front and found my voice. I put my walkman on and started reading.  It wasn’t perfect, but I knew I was on my way.

Throughout the rest of my education, I always carried with me those words from my 4th grade teacher, “Never let them break your voice”. Many have tried throughout the years, but even more have failed.

Clutchettes, What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from a teacher?

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  • b

    Bravo to you! Bravo to teachers like your homeroom one and Mrs. Adams for recognizing needs and fulfilling it! God Bless the worthy Teachers, Mentors and Student Advocates of the world!

  • Mademoiselle

    My second grade teacher taught me to be proud of my last name. It seems simple, but at a time when Haitians were the butt of every joke and being accused of being the transporters of HIV, it felt easier to pronounce my last name as American-ly as I could get it to sound to avoid the taunting, until I got a Haitian woman for a teacher who not only taught me what was so beautiful about my last name (and I’ve since heard the same sentiment from many a French-speaker in my life), but taught me to take pride in it, pronounce it confidently, and correct anyone who gets it wrong. As I grew up, and met other kids with non-American backgrounds who had the same urge to disguise their names, I was able to see from the outside looking in how taking pride in yourself meant taking pride in everything about yourself, even if some things about you are less common. I now love to find out where people’s names come from–the less common the better because it gives me a glimpse into worlds I may otherwise never have been exposed to.

  • Lonai

    Same here.Love this!!