Eighth Grade

A few quick things before getting into eighth grade —

I noticed there’s the British Stammering Association’s national conference in August over a weekend. Maybe I should go to that, too? I mean, might as well jump into the deep end, right? It’s in Glasgow. I’d probably only need to take one or two days off.

Speaking of which, please note that I’m in Saudi — so our days off are Friday and Saturday. I’ll try to set something up to post on the “weekend,” but may not always get around to it. As a bonus, you’ll get posts on Sunday, though.

Also, please note that this tour of my past is only of the major points that I recall — I’ll still dip into the mental archives now and again to highlight some issues. For example, I haven’t said anything about being raised as a Muslim — and having to learn to read Arabic.

Alright, onto eighth grade. As I mentioned, my confidence is cyclical, so by my last year in junior high, things were going very well. The boat anchor of having to talk in French was being towed along easily by every other class. I had established a solid core of friends, we enjoyed our classes, and my sense of humor was in full swing. By this time, I was watching Letterman on Friday nights and Friends on Thursday nights. My sarcasm was reaching new heights.

In English class we watched Dead Poets Society. There’s a scene in the movie when one of the characters receives a phone call and tells the headmaster in front of everybody. I thought this was great. That year we had a weekly class, something like, CAP, or Curriculum Activity Period. I can’t remember what it was for, but we thought it was useless, so we called it CRAP, or Curriculum-Related Activity Period. Anyway, inspired by the movie, I brought in a little Liberty Bell (that my brother had got on a field trip) and the headset from a telephone at home. Then, during English, I rang the bell and answered the phone. I told my teacher it was God, and that He thought we should cancel CAP.

Fortunately he had a sense of humor about it. He even showed me the paddle that he kept in his closet. Like most of the teachers, he was old school, so that sort of thing used to go down. My heinie was spared, and my confidence was boosted nicely. The other nice thing about school was that aside from French, there wasn’t any class participation. I could engage on my own terms. I could sit in the back of a class and make sarcastic comments under my breath to my heart’s content.

I don’t remember specifically going to speech therapy after sixth grade (although I did start going again in high school). I don’t remember that I even participated in such a decision. Maybe the teachers or therapists or my parents thought that I was doing fine? My grades were very solid. I didn’t have any behavioral issues.

So once again I had reached a relative peak, and once again, I’d be brought down mightily by a whole new experience. High school was up next.

Sixth Grade

Let’s get on to sixth grade. Just to recap, by fifth grade I was feeling very confident and smart. I had plenty of friends, didn’t understand the magnitude or consequences of my stuttering, and assumed life would continue to be all sunshine and kittens.

Not so much.

Our school district is made up of about a half-dozen elementary schools. These then feed into the junior high school, grades 6-8. They then feed into the high school, 9-12.

Sixth grade was divided into 18 classrooms. These were split into three wings. In each of these three wings, the six classes paired up. So you’d have half your classes with your homeroom teacher, then walk across the hall during the day for other stuff. Some classes were in the other wings as well, but most of your life was in just one wing.

I had a problem with both classrooms. First of all, there was no more coddling. Time to grow up and toughen up. My homeroom teacher was a tough guy named Mr. Shull. He could laugh and have a good time, but he was also very serious. The next thing was that I didn’t really know anybody in my class. This was pretty intimidating.

Every morning we’d all stand up and say the pledge of allegiance. To get this started, everybody took a turn saying “I.” Once the person said it, then the rest of the class would join in. I suppose we could debate the merits of this approach, but hey, this was life, so figure it out. Most of my mornings were consumed with counting kids. I’d see who was saying “I,” and then figure out how many more days I had. What made this more complicated is that we were seated in clusters — two by two desks facing each other, and then a fifth hanging on the end. How the counting got around each cluster always seemed to change.

Anyway, the day finally came. I couldn’t hide from it, and as I stood up and put my hand on my heart, nothing came out. I was trying. I didn’t have any breath to say anything, but I was still trying. I could feel everybody waiting. It felt like minutes even though it was probably only a few seconds. Everything was locked up, and there was nowhere to run. I didn’t know to stop and take a breath. Finally, I eeked out the quietest “I,” and the others in my cluster started in on the pledge. Afterward, Mr. Shull came up to me and asked if I had said “I.” The kid standing next to me in our cluster said yes, he heard it.

Across the hall, we’d have spelling class. This was pretty simple, but it turns out sixth grade was determined to show me the wonders of class participation. For each spelling lesson, a student would say the word, spell the word, and then (I think?) read a sentence. Oh what fun! And every week, a new list!

So we’d start off, and I’d look down the row (no clusters in that room for whatever reason), count the number of kids, and count down the list of words. Then I’d start panicking. It almost didn’t matter what the word was. I’d seriously try to calm myself down, but no, it never worked. Saying a word is one thing, having to utter so many more syllables just to spell it was even worse. And those vowels. And hard consonants. And seriously, we could all read, so what was the point of this again?

Going to the conference

Let me take a break from talking about how much I love talking on the phone …

I have some great news — my vacation was approved for early July which means that yes, I can go to the conference! I signed up for it already and am now just sorting out flights. My parents are still in Pennsylvania, and I’ve got a bunch of friends in and around DC. So it’ll be great to see everybody again as well.

Now for some background on these posts. A peak behind the curtain. They’re not fun to write. At all. I usually start them out with a sentence or two, dig into my brain and … do something else. Then an hour later I get back to it. It’s not a “work process” issue at all. That’s not how I write other things. It’s how I write things I don’t like writing about. But I’m forcing myself to do this even though for most of them reliving the details causes some sweating and angst. What is good is that as I look back, I think, yes, I made it through that, and today, I might not handle it the same way. I have more confidence. I have more patience. I may not breathe right all the time, but at least I know what works and what doesn’t a little better.

The other interesting thing about digging into the past is the difference between what’s available technology-wise. I couldn’t just e-mail people or hit them up on social media when I was in elementary school or high school. (I graduated high school in 1997) I had to call them. I had to talk to them in person. I can hide my stutter a lot more now because on any given day, I can avoid most verbal communication. But I don’t want to do that. What that does allow is for me to handle my stuttering on my own terms. Maybe doing something electronically is just better and faster and will save me the frustration of a stutter. Is that better? Maybe.

I’m excited about going to this conference because I really do have a lot of questions for other people who stutter. Since I’ve kept this stuttering to myself all these years and avoided reading up on it, I’ve lived a silo-like existence. Just been sucking it up on my own. It’s time to end that. How do other people use e-mail and other means to help when they’re feeling frustrated? Are other people challenging themselves in a methodical way to build confidence? And just because you can talk to your secret childhood crush on social media does that mean you’re not intimidated by calling her instead?

Mushrooms and Olives

When I was in my teens, the family would order pizza about once every week or two. I don’t know if my parents wanted to save money or what, but we’d order the pizza, wait about ten minutes, then go pick it up ourselves. We never had it delivered.

Invariably this led to my dad assigning the task to me. I haven’t asked, so I don’t know — but maybe he gave this phone call assignment to me so I could build up some confidence (but we never talked about my stuttering, so …) It didn’t work. It was always something I dreaded. (although I suppose the pizza sort of made up for it.)

So, it’d go down like this. We’d decide that yes, this evening there shall be pizza. Then we’d decide on one of two places. Then whether or not we could find coupons for one of the places. That was always worse because the coupons would allow us to get pizza with toppings and not just plain. Most of the time we’d agree on mushrooms and olives. Mushrooms with that wonderful, drag-it-out-til-next-week ‘m’ sound and olives with an ‘o’ that may or may not come out at all. Fantastic.

First thing I’d do is take the cordless phone and walk into the dining room where my parents or brother couldn’t see me. I hate talking on the phone when others are watching me. I’d stay standing and move to the window and look outside. Maybe this would distract me? Was I far enough away that nobody would hear me?

I’d call them up. They’d always pick up after a ring or two, and this was always a surprise to me. So then my speech would be thrown off. How was I supposed to start this again? Oh, right, with a hello. Then, “I need to order a pizza.” They’d ask my name. What I did early on was try to say my last name which is often as tough to utter as my first. But then I got smarter and just spelled it out. When they’d say it, I’d repeat it a split second later (for some reason this is easy). A little confidence was built up at this point. Unfortunately, it was never enough.

What has always messed me up is having the other person dictate the pace of the conversation. And the feeling that yes, I should also be in a hurry, and I should know this information without hesitation. Whatdoyouneed? “I need two large, one with mushrooms, and one with olives.” Oh, that m on mushrooms. Every time. Then they’d throw in whether it’s green olives or black. What? Black! But then to say that as well. Things would just jam up completely on the b. They’d always ask again. I’d squeak out a reply. During this entire conversation, I’m also trying not to talk too loud, and while I usually don’t wave my arms or anything while talking, I might do it a little when nobody’s watching. Because of the pizzeria’s hurried interrogation, I’m not even thinking about breathing. I’m just dreading the questions. I’m dreading having to say that I have a coupon before they hang up on me. Oh, did I mention they ask for the phone number, too? Don’t they have caller ID? C’mon, people.

Finally, over. Sweating a little. Did I order the right thing? Probably. It’s over. I stay in the dining room for a little while. Finally take a deep breath. Then walk back and announce it’s over. Maybe go to the bathroom. Why am I afraid of my family? They never say anything about it.

After a few minutes, we’d leave to go get the pizza. I’d be sent in to the pizzeria and then have to say my name again to get our order …

Starting therapy and the rest of elementary school

In third grade, big changes started happening. I remember getting put into the gifted program (or maybe I was before, but now some of us were also in a separate group during regular class time) and my teacher, Mrs. Baker, telling me that while I did have a stutter, it wasn’t as bad as her uncle’s.

Even though I was being singled out for this, I wasn’t being held back by my stutter. I wasn’t letting it get in my way because I actually didn’t know any better. I was still doing very well in school, and scoring near the top of every test and quiz that was given. I knew almost all the answers in class as well.

While I haven’t asked my parents, I’m guessing this is around the time that the school district started talking to them about my stutter. My parents never talked to me about it anyway. Then in either third or fourth grade, I started speech therapy at school. It was what, maybe an hour or 45 minutes per week.

Like Jack before me, I would leave the classroom and see the therapist, a lady whose name I forgot. We’d sit down and chat, she’d make me say some sounds, some words, some sentences. And for the most part, I wouldn’t stutter at all. I was very comfortable. The nice thing was that nobody ever said, ‘hey, you need to fix this otherwise it’ll ruin your life forever.’ No, it was more of a break from classes to go chat with this nice lady, and that was that.

In fourth and fifth grade, I continued the speech therapy. And the gifted program. Thinking back on it, by fifth grade, I was very comfortable and confident. Knew pretty much everybody in the class, and got along well with them. Never got into any trouble. During a music class (while singing — or, you know, trying to sing) I discovered what anybody who stutters knows — that I didn’t stutter while singing. I thought this was pretty interesting albeit not very useful. My life wasn’t about to become a musical, after all.

I don’t remember the stuttering being a huge problem because we weren’t raising our hands and giving long descriptive answers. It was a quick word or number or whatever. Oral book reports or presentations … yeah, didn’t have those either that I recall. So things were going pretty well.

In our school district, the elementary school ended in fifth grade. Then it was time to get dumped into the junior high school (we called it middle school) for grades 6-8. A much bigger pool of kids, and a lot more uncertainty. But I’ll get to that in a little while. Let’s take a break and talk about how awful the telephone is for the next few days.

Starts with an eye

Aside from reading to the kindergartners in first grade that I mentioned yesterday — and really, I don’t even remember the actual act of reading, just that I did it (I still have the book at my parent’s house) — I don’t recall any speaking out loud in first grade.

But in second grade, that’s when I remembered the stuttering started.

A family friend told me a simple story, the crux of which was, “his eyes were so itchy, he scratched them out.” No idea about the story’s other details …

Anyway, as a seven-year-old, I thought this was earth-shattering stuff, and so, when it was time for open sharing or book time or whatever (I remember we were all sitting on a carpet together) I raised my hands and told his random bit of information for everybody’s benefit. And I stuttered on the word “eye.”

For the rest of second grade, I don’t remember any other “public” speaking. What I do remember is one of the kids, Jack, going to “speech.” The teacher would tell him once a week that it was time for “speech,” and off he’d go. Years later I realized what was up — Jack had a lisp.

My entire elementary school life (and the rest of it, for that matter) was devoid of bullying. Nobody ever said anything negative about the way I spoke. I think the reason for this was because I was somewhat smart, and usually knew the answer to whatever was going on. And I wasn’t afraid to offer up help if anybody asked.

It wasn’t until third grade that I started seeing the school-provided therapist (I think) and I’ll get to that tomorrow.


I think this week I’ll go back through some quick elementary school stories of stuttering. There’s not as much to say about these since those days are pretty vague. Also, it’s important to date this — times before the Internet and easy information. So it’s something like 1985-6 for first grade …

When I was a teenager and stuttering all the time, I wondered a lot what was causing this. I thought it might be something physical — maybe landing on my back or front all those times playing football in the backyard with my brother. Then, since we were being brought up to believe in God, maybe it was something bad I had done a long time ago that I was being punished for? What exactly could that be?

Ah, that’s right. First grade. During first grade, all of the students had the opportunity to read a story book to the kindergarten class. All you had to do was sign your name up on a list, and then you’d be the person for that week. Well, not being on top of things, of course I forgot about signing up. And the end of the year was coming. If I added my name to the bottom of the list now, I wouldn’t have the chance to read to them. But I really, really wanted to read to those kindergartners! (No idea why). So I simply went up to the list, erased someone else’s name, and put mine on there. (yes, I’m a terrible person) Done! And a few weeks later, I was reading to the little kiddies. I don’t remember stuttering at all in first grade, by the way.

Clearly that must have been the cause of the stuttering! Not only were you devious about signing up, but it was a verbal activity! And now your oral prowess would be compromised for life.

Obviously that wasn’t it, but this is the kind of thing that runs through your young mind when you have nowhere to turn.

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