As a budding speech-language pathologist, there are very few times I find myself speechless. In my reflections and growth from this past weekend, I remained in awe of the stories I heard and the people I met. I still did my fair share of talking, but I made a conscious effort to listen more and reflect in the sparing moments of silence. This was an experience that was unlike anything that could ever be duplicated in textbooks or learned without having a full immersion.
This story begins with traveling to Omaha, Nebraska for Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter Annual Convention. I have had the privilege of attending my local one-day conference for two years, so I was eager to participate in the national gathering and learn as much as I possibly could. With the start of my grad program a short month away, I knew I needed to begin preparing for what was to come as I embark on pursuing my Master’s and a certificate in fluency studies. An interest of mine is stuttering, but I do not have that much experience with people who stutter. I have always known people who stutter, but my interactions have somewhat been limited. My goal in traveling to such an event was to walk away from it having a better understanding and jumpstart my comfort level in having effective communication practices with people who stutter and their families.
Attending the Friends Convention as a grad student provided me the unique opportunity to drift between sessions meant for the various focus groups, and I was in a way paired up with mentors to set aside dedicated time to talk. From spending an entire day with the young kids to listening to concerned parents to having one-on-one conversations with adults who stutter, my perspective completely changed. As much as I witnessed a metamorphosis taking place in the lives of the people who stuttered around me, young and old, I had my own version of it too. I went from trying to find my niche in the field to fearing I would make the wrong move in therapeutic practices to realizing that by coming I was already taking steps in the right direction to contribute a positive outcome in the lives of my future clients.
There were so many takeaways from the convention, and this is where I struggle to put words to my racing thoughts adequately. Coming by myself gave me the chance to really step out of any comfort zone I ever thought I had. The first day of the convention offered my first glimpse of seeing what Friends was all about. I was happy sitting on the sidelines of the hotel lobby and watching other people mingle. Before I knew it, people were making me feel like I had found some long-lost family and were exchanging life updates. So, at this point, I felt right at home with complete strangers who were quickly becoming friends. I loved hearing them tell how they became involved with the organization and how it changed their lives for the better.
The second day of the convention brought some eye-opening experiences to me. I listened to stories that more people need to have the chance to hear. Among other things, I learned that society is crueler than I already thought and people who stutter exhibit a level of bravery I admire. I have read stories of coffee shop employees making ordering for a person who stutters harder than it needs to be, but the stories shared in the news often times have a happy ending of a friend stepping in and advocating for a person who stutters. My heart broke as I heard a story that did not share the same empathy. I hate that we live in a society where it is okay to tease and poke fun at the things we do not understand.
I listened intently to parents sharing with other parents about their fears and concerns about raising children who stutter. I especially appreciated their stories of speech therapy that included the good, bad, and the ugly. This was when I began to worry about my approach in my own practices would not be up to snuff. We are taught to reach proficiency and have numbers correlate to progress and improvements in speech programs. For speech-language pathologists who do not specialize in stuttering, I assume that this is where some questionable practices are implemented because they do not have the tools and training to work with people who stutter productively. The more I sat there, the more I concluded that this could not be the case when working with people who stutter. The goal should never be to fix a stutter because people who stutter are not broken and should never be treated as such. Working through the emotions and reaching a place of acceptance and empowerment should matter more than having a client for the sake of numbers on a caseload.
Spending time together during meals were impactful experiences. This was when even more stories were shared, and deep thoughts were exchanged. I owe a special thanks to the people I shared a lunchtime with. The insight I gained from them, and their perspective of stuttering was so valuable and is something I will not forget for as long as I am doing what I love in speech. Hearing first-hand accounts of someone’s life with a stutter is the best way to learn and understand. Time flew, and I feel like that was only chipping away a fraction of the bigger picture.
I love being around kids of all ages, so when I found out I would be with them a good portion of the convention, I was thrilled. Seeing kids who stutter play with kids who do not stutter made me wish more kids had the opportunity to be exposed to people who may be a little different from themselves. I think society would benefit from it when they become adults, and we would not have rude people being critical out of ignorance. The happiness these kids shared filled my heart. I could see the shy ones break out of their shell and become more comfortable talking to other kids and even adults. This transformation was crucial for them and their journey with their own stutter, and for some, it was to better grasp the idea of a sibling’s or parent’s stutter. They continually amazed me with distinct bravery and a will to overcome communicative obstacles.
The close of the convention was beautifully executed. The testimonies I heard made me so glad I came. During the closing ceremony, I sat with the young kiddos who may or may not have appreciated the exchange of words, but it was really cool to see their wheels turning and figuring out how they could have their part. While some were still not too sure about it, others embraced the chance at the mic (mic drop and all), and I was so proud to see how far they came in three short days. I could not help but shed some tears when parents looked to their children and called them a hero or when children thanked their parents for bringing them to a convention like this to hear and know other people who stutter just like them.
A fun weekend away would not be complete without one last meal together and the best dance party ever! Some karaoke was involved too, and at this point in the trip, my heart was overflowing with all the feels. Earlier in the day, I heard a mom make the analogy that we are all ships, and ships are safest in their harbor. The convention was our harbor where we did not have to worry about what the world thought of us or what challenges we would have to face tomorrow. It was so fitting for the kids’ first go at karaoke to be Fight Song. I will forever think of this memory when I hear that song. They are vessels who have so much to offer this world, and for them to start at such a young age exhibiting such grace and embracing what makes them unique gives me so much hope for the future. Their stories grew along with them, and whoever takes the time to listen to them will be greatly blessed, just as I was.
And all those things I didn't say
Everyone’s story was so powerful, and I will forever be grateful for their welcoming spirit towards me. Being in the presence and fellowship of people who stutter gave me much to reflect on, and if I had to choose a word to capture it all, I would say inspiring. This experience is only marking the beginning of growing friendships. It truly felt more like a family, and I cannot wait to reconnect through the years. Regardless of the twists and turns life takes, we have the ultimate task of showing a higher regard of empathy. It is easy to take for granted the ease to communicate, but after being immersed in a new awareness, I will forever make it my mission to listen intently, advocate when necessary, and make it known that your voice matters.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2018
My stint of being a third-grade teacher (temporarily) has reached its end. For the longest time, I said I wanted to be a third-grade teacher after loving my own teacher that year. And now that I have that dream out of my system, I can go the rest of my life not wondering if I missed out on not fulfilling that childhood career goal. Some things are better left in the past. I am, on the other hand, reconsidering my desire of working in a school in my career field of speech pathology instead of where I thought I wanted to work. But back to getting to my point. These past four weeks have been some of the most challenging yet rewarding days that have taught me so much.
The kiddos in my classroom have worked hard for me, but we have also had lots of fun together. Some days, though, made me wonder if we were on our way to struggle town riding the hot mess express. We were a lot to handle and other times we had some insightful moments. Each week, I tried to have an activity that enforced good character traits. My first fun Friday with them entailed watching Kid President sharing twenty things we need to say more often, and our follow-up to his call to action was coming up with Random Acts of Kindness. They loved it, and I could hear and see them taking our discussion to heart.
I liked to start off the mornings with some positivity. And as dorky as the song I picked was, I think it worked. Between the catchy tune and simple phrase, we were bound to have a great day (in theory). To share our new-found positivity, the students wrote anonymous compliments to each other, and upon opening their report cards, they would see what classmate said something nice to them. It is the small things that matter.
Watching Kid President’s videos kind of became our thing and is what bonded us together. I used them for a few reasons: (1) they were good messages to kids (simply put), (2) sometimes when a kid says something other kids are more likely to listen better than when an adult says it, and (3) Kid President knows what is cool and can relate to whatever audience is willing to listen. So, during the last week of school, I showed them yet another video. This one was great! The kids hung on every word. I posed a question for their writing prompt. Previously, some fought me on writing journal prompts, but not this time. I was shocked and impressed all the same. It had taken three weeks to get them to reach the enjoyment in the writing stage. As I read the responses, my heart filled with joy. I compiled them and set music to it just so I could share it with as many people as I could. The kids were proud of their work, and in turn, I was proud of their thought process towards changing the world.
One of the things my right-hand helper in the classroom and I tried to teach the kids was how to write letters. They wrote to each other, and that went well, but I thought there would be meaning behind me writing each and every one of my students a personal letter, and then they returned the favor with a letter back in response. I thought those response letters back were either going to be really blunt and tell me how crazy they thought I was or they would be adorable and say funny things. These kiddos surprised me again and came up with a beautiful collection of compliments and stories about what they liked doing with me as their teacher. They had me laughing at the jokes one minute and crying the next at their disclosure of how much they had learned in the few short weeks we had to together. I had already learned about them through conversation, but they shared even more in the letters. Some shared their favorite books to read, and others chronicled what they hoped summer would entail in a few short days. I even enticed a few students to become bloggers, notebook bloggers that is (until they are old enough to have an online one). That especially made me happy.
On the last day of school, I thought the kids would come in bouncing off the walls with excitement and asking how many more minutes stood between them and summer. That was the furthest thing from reality. I had kids come in with tears streaming down their cheeks and begging not to leave. I did all I could to keep the morning upbeat and distracted from their emotions. Through tears, I had one little girl raise her hand and tell me, “Miss Corne, you were the best thing that ever happened to us because you cared and whipped us into shape real quick.” Well, there went any amount of strength I had not to cry right along with them. There I was trying to hold it together for them, and they broke me. I should mention it does not take much to make me cry, but that hit me right in the feels, and it was downhill from there. We tried consoling each other, and I tried to give some good pep talks. That was not working, so it was just one big cry fest in my classroom that migrated to the hallways as we cheered on the fourth graders as they took their final walk in that building. My heart broke when I had to walk my class out for the last time this year to the buses and put crying kids on the bus. Nobody prepared me for that part of my job. I did not think I had gotten that attached to my kids, but who was I fooling? My teary eyes were proof that I had gotten really attached.
Third grade is a fun age. They ask millions of questions (some days it made my head spin and my left eye twitch). They are curious, genuinely curious. They are so impulsive, but I get it. Each child in this world has to figure things out for themselves and learn where they belong. And as challenging as this experience has been, the good days far out-weighed the bad days. When I look around and see the current generation and the ones to come, I wonder what the future may look like. Most of the kids now have some extra obstacles to overcome and cannot help the background they come from. But if they only learned one thing from me the entire time I was there it was that they could change the world and turn things around for themselves. I had my eyes opened to the next generation of leaders, creators, and doers. So even on dark days in society, I captured a glimpse of a light shown on a renewed hope for a bright future.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2018
To say last week was challenging would be a severe understatement. It takes a lot to make me feel defeated, and at one point, I felt like I was letting the challenge at hand defeat me. The big picture is that I took a big step into something that was so new and would be doing a job I was not sure if I was ready to handle.
This side gig of subbing has been going so well, and I have loved being at a middle school almost every day. One day, I got a phone call from a teacher at a different building in the district requesting me for a long-term until the end of the year. As that question came through on my speaker, I wondered if there was a glitch in my car system and I misheard the question. Somehow, my mouth responded ‘yes’ before my brain had time to process the conversation.
Since that phone call, I had a few weeks to think, prepare, and panic just a little. Subbing a day here or there had little consequences because the chances of having a major screw up were slim compared to finishing out the school year. My degree was not in teaching, so I feared I would miss the nuances of a teacher. I mean, I have been a third grader before, and I have seen teachers in action (obviously), so in that aspect, sure, I have had training. But, the idea of walking into a classroom of twenty-some nine-year-olds was intimidating and scared me to death.
The day came, and all of a sudden, someone’s classroom became my own (at least until June). We had a rocky first day together. Nothing can adequately prepare a person to jump into this head first in the middle of the year after routines and behaviors are already set in place. At one point in the day, I felt like a hostage negotiator, and I was the hostage. Day one was a wake-up call. I do not know if it had to do with being an only child, having an introvert side, or owning up to my Type A personality that could not handle the chaotic day, but I needed a brain break (as our class now affectionately calls it).
I had time to think about how the day went and how tomorrow could be better (because that is all I could ask for). Thankfully, the staff at this school was so welcoming and a haven for me when I needed support (and to answer my million questions). I kept having to push out a little negative voice in my head that said, “you cannot do this,” but my heart said, “you can do this.”
A new day brought new attitudes and goals. And I could see a difference in myself and the kids. This was huge. We almost did a one-eighty. There were still things that could be better, but we were working through our uphill battle and almost to the top. I kept telling myself and the kids that we needed to adapt. I was transparent with this group that this was a new role for me.
We got to a point in the day that I still saw some frustration from both sides. I totally could see where they were coming from too. Nothing about this transition was easy, but no one said it was going to be. I said something that hit me hard, and I think the kids began to see this new adventure in a new light. I do not know why I said it, but it made so much sense. My words went something like this: “I am here to teach you, but we all have something to learn from each other. I am learning just like you. Learning does not stop at the end of the math lessons or the social studies discussions. I am learning just as much or more from each of you, and that is an awesome thing when the teacher can learn from the students. So, show me we are in this together.” At the end of my sermonette, I had a classroom of wide eyes looking at me. I saw a shift in behavior, and excitement that was not there before began to seep into my heart.
I had a pep in my step going in on Friday that was not there before. The kids came in and seemed to take to heart what we talked about the day before. Their little wheels were turning, and it was evident that they were trying their best to make an effort to have a better day than our first couple of days together. When they earned an extended recess at lunchtime for the first time all year, you would have thought they had won a hundred dollars each. When they showed me how fire drills worked at their school and were absolutely silent without being told, you would have thought they were old pros and ready to jump into action when there was trouble. When it came time for Fun Friday festivities, and they took every minute seriously for fear of losing their chances, you would have thought they had been waiting all year to hear the best-kept secret.
They surprised me Friday. I saw transformations take place all day and new kids appeared before my eyes. I was proud. Not of myself because this was not my doing. I was proud of them for choosing what kind of day we were going to have. My role in this was providing the framework to spark this change; they did the rest. I could talk until I am blue in the face, and if they really did not want to listen and change, there would be no way to force this shift. Their actions meant more to me than anything else, and it taught me that when the ball is in their court, kids are more likely to take an active role in leaving their positive mark on their peers, classroom, and world.
They are learning the basics from me, but I could never replicate the lessons these little hearts and minds are teaching me.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2018
Subbing has its quirks about it. My age puts me just about in the middle between the students and the teachers. Usually, this is not an issue for anyone, except for one time. And, maybe issue is the wrong word, but the situation was awkward nonetheless.
I had been subbing maybe a month or so before I returned to the middle school I had formerly attended. Most of my teachers were still there (but I was relieved to see that some had retired or moved away too). I did not have a horrible middle school experience, but there were some anxieties about returning as a teacher for the day. So, I put on my big girl pants and walked in like it was my actual first day of middle school.
The day was going swimmingly, and then lunchtime rolled around. I was about to enter the labyrinth that was the teachers’ lounge: the place I had never set foot in before. I had a choice to make. Do I sit at the table and eat with my former teachers and have a royal staring showdown, or do I sit in the corner, read for my audiology class, and pretend I was not even there? I went with the latter and was perfectly content with my decision. I still viewed my teachers as just that, my teachers, and I assumed they still saw me as the kid I was in their class.
I buried my nose in my textbook and hoped I would go unnoticed. Just about that time, I thought I had flown under the radar, a teacher (whom I never had) called me out, asked what I was doing in the corner like a loner, and insisted I joined the adult table. Great! Everything I tried to do to avoid extra attention backfired, and it backfired big. So, I migrated to the table, picked at my lunch, and kept my textbook in my lap as a security blanket I guess.
Conversations began, and they involved me at times. Gulp. Given my anxiety about this encounter, you would think I had been thrown to the wolves and in a hostile situation, but I most certainly was not. My teachers could not have been nicer and were interested in hearing a recap of my life after middle school since almost a decade had passed.
I have since returned to sub some more and had enjoyable experiences in the lounge during lunch with the teachers. Although I still refer to them as I did when I was a student, it was nice to be back and see them from the other side, because the tables have surely turned.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2018
Since my days of babysitting are no longer in full swing, I decided I needed to do something to have a little money flowing. I decided that becoming a substitute teacher would be the best fit for my personality and schedule. I jumped through all the hoops and hoped this would work out and be something I really enjoyed.
My first day as a sub was at a middle school, and it just so happened to be the one that my mom works at as a teacher. Sure enough, I was right across the hall from her, so that was memorable. My day went so well. I could figure out the math, and the kids did not scare me off. I thought that if I could make it out alive after a day with middle schoolers, I would be brave enough to try high schoolers the next day.
I had my fingers crossed for my second day to go just as smooth as the first. My worst fear was them not taking me seriously because I was only a few years older than them, and who knows what kind of circus would erupt if that ever happened.
Luckily, the students did not give me any hassle, and everything was going well. That was until my last hour. It was a fun class, and there was a group of boys that I could just tell had lively personalities. Nothing was getting out of hand, but at one point, one of them kept wandering around the room and was making a big deal out of something.
“What is that smell?! It smells like gas leaking from somewhere,” he announced to the entire class.
Now, the other boys are playing off of this, and I smelled nothing. They continue trying to convince me of the smell. I got up to investigate for myself. The room I was in happened to have a stove, and my first thought was “some punk played with the stove and is messing with me.” Still, I am not smelling anything, but about the time I make it halfway back to the desk, it hits me, and it hits me hard. Talk about getting an instant headache.
At this point, nothing has been announced over the PA system. These boys are trying their best to get me just to let them go for the day and are informing me of what other teachers in the building are doing. Confused as to how they are getting their intel, I asked them and regretted it because they quickly waved a Snapchat video in my face of their friends from the opposite side of the building standing outside. I rolled my eyes and was quick to tell them that I have no authority just to let them go.
This is where the part that stunned me comes in. In the most dramatic theatrics, a boy comes up the desk where I am standing and exclaims, “Mrs. Corne Junior! We are putting our trust in you! Mrs. Corne Junior! There is a gas leak, and I am not dying today!”
I laughed hysterically at this display of flattery or whatever you want to call it. Out of the many things I could have been called by high schoolers, I took this as a compliment. Many in this class had previously had my mom as a teacher, and for them to like me and call me her junior, I felt like I had won the day.
Soon, the powers that were dismissed us for the day early, and no one was harmed in the making of this story. I made my way to meet my mom at the middle school (since we carpooled), and I could not wait to tell her and the other teachers who were circled around while we waited for that building to get cleared out too (because of a leak). Everyone had a good chuckle.
Since that day, I have been called that here and there from the other kids who heard about that day in Spanish class. It was determined that the leak was not coming from the property after all, but it was worth it to earn the nickname that stuck.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2018
I said not that long ago that I was pursuing Speech-Language Pathology as a passion first and a profession second. As compelling as that sounds, the passion I have turned somewhat to panic when the reality of meeting my client was upon me. Of course, I had the knowledge base to help me here, but at the same time, this is someone’s kid in my hands.
Over the winter break, I diligently organized a binder full of resources and materials. Since I did not know what type of client I would have, I was stabbing in the dark and hoping something I pulled together would work for me. My parents supported the efforts and gifted me a monogrammed bag that is now known as my therapy bag that carries all my supplies to and from the clinic.
From the outside looking in, one might have thought I had it all together. Surprise! I did not. During our first clinic meeting, we were assigned our first client. Some of my prep work would be put to good use, but I still had many things to do before my first session.
Some of my best ideas come during those hypothetical situations when they will never be executed, and nothing is at stake. The night before my first therapy session had me in a pinch. For all the times I was given a fake client file and asked to come up with therapy ideas and best approaches, I could crank some out, but when it came time for the real deal, I was coming up short. After a few hours had passed and some frantic texts were exchanged, I regrouped and was as prepared as I would ever get for my first therapy session.
Walking out of the session, I felt good. The things that needed to get accomplished got done, and I could begin to better plan out the rest of the semester. It also helped that my kiddo is super sweet and likes to talk. What more could a speechie ask for?!
After everything was said and done that night, a thought came to my mind. The session that took place that night was my one and only first client. I will never have a first session again. I mean, I will have many first sessions with new clients, but this was the big first that nothing will ever compare to during my career. It is a crazy feeling to know from that night forward I will never have the same butterfly feeling or jittery excitement of having my first client. That thought hit me hard. I took one giant step towards my future, and it made me proud of my fourteen-year-old self for choosing a career path that I would grow to love.
I still have a long way to go before I ever get good at what I am doing, but this is a start. I still have degrees to earn and years of practice ahead of me. The old saying is “choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” I think I am well on my way to having this feeling. This does not mean I will not have to work hard to achieve the things I want to achieve, but it does mean that I will cherish the days when I am deep in a career and have an overflowing caseload.
A lifetime is ahead of me as I embark on this adventure towards real adulthood and Speech-Language Pathology as a profession. Reaching the status of being perfect is totally unrealistic in the realm of speech for both the client and clinician. Learning will forever be in my job description. I would not have it any other way because for as long as I am living the speechie life, I will be a work in progress.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2018