My name is Rik Mets, 26 years old and living in Gouda, The Netherlands. I have stuttered since I was a child and for the past four years I have worked as a history teacher. In my spare time I like to read, write, sing and play the guitar.
Upon receiving my Master’s degree in Education, back in 2017, the word my mentor used to describe me was resilient. She had over forty years of experience as a secondary school teacher and a teacher educator, but she had never come across a person who stutters as an aspiring teacher. Neither had my internship supervisor, who also had quite a lot of experience teaching and training interns. And so, I was the ‘odd one out.’ Both of them had grave reservations upon meeting me and doubted whether I would be able to complete the Master’s program. Luckily for me, they kept their reservations private and only told me about it a year later, when I had succeeded in finishing the program.
Had I always wanted to be a teacher? Well, it was definitely in the back of my head during high school and university. Basically, because I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do with my life. All my life, I have been enthusiastic about history and everything that goes with it, whether it was reading historical books, watching historical movies, or playing out Napoleonic battles as a child, dressed in full regalia that my mother had made. Again, I was the ‘odd one out’, and I did not play much with other children, the reason being that they simply didn’t understand the scenario I wanted to play out. Stuttering therefore was never really an issue for me as a child because I lived in my own world.
That changed when I moved on to high school. As every teenager, I was self-conscious and nervous about what others thought of me. I wanted to hang out with the cool kids, but still I was ‘that stuttering history nerd’. I spend a lot of my time reading and avoiding opportunities to speak. When I gave my first presentation, some kid in the back could not help but laughing about my appearance and my stuttering. He is now one my best friends, but it took quite some time for him to take a liking to me and look beyond the way I spoke.
Not always being able to speak, made me want to write and I published two historical novels in high school. People were sceptical when I started, but I persisted, found a publisher and I keep my own books on a prominent shelf in my bookcase to this day. The stereotype of the ‘history nerd’ was furthered by this and made the choice for what to study all the easier. What else than History? Basically, there was nothing else I could do in my opinion. And so, in 2012, I started at Utrecht University.
Did I know what I wanted to be after finishing my studies? No. I just loved history. Did I think about becoming a teacher? Well, yes, but I soon learned that it was very hard to get into, the Master Education for history. As it is in other countries, there is a great demand for teachers, but a surplus of history teachers. The conditions of getting into the Master’s program would be tough and let’s not forget: I stutter! Why would they ever admit me and take such a big risk?
The years following, I started to prepare for applying and I built up a resume that I thought might be sufficient to at least give me a fighting chance. I started working at museums and as a private tutor. I did an internship where I had to give presentations about antisemitism and the Holocaust for crowds of sometimes over a hundred people. And I followed a course on ‘Rhetoric’.
Even four years later, I still think fondly of the two months I studied under a professor in Classical Languages and Culture. It was the first time he gave the course ‘Rhetoric’ and the idea was simple. He would give two classes per week where he delved into the theory, reciting and showing examples of why some speeches work and why some do not. Every Friday afternoon, we would work with an actress on how to actually give speeches, how to use your voice and gestures, when to pause to build up tension, and overall to gain confidence speaking in front of an audience. The course would be concluded by a ‘speech contest’ between the ten best public speakers. I was astonished to learn that they had selected me.
To be honest, I did not have the best speech prepared. There were others who had better structured monologues, a stronger conclusion or a voice that was more equipped for speaking without a microphone. However, I touched the audience, lured them into my story about growing up with a stutter and made them participate in my speech. I went well over the limit of eight minutes, but at the end I received the audience award. At the time, I didn’t think too much about it, other than just being proud about my achievement, but at this moment I know that it was a turning point in my life. I had proved that it was possible for a person who stutters to be a more than decent public speaker.
It for this reason that my mentor used the word ‘resilience’ to describe me when I received my Master’s degree and became a history teacher. I had not backed down from any obstacles that had obviously been in my way. I had overcome the doubts both she and my supervisor had had at first. It became clear that their reservations were unfounded, mostly because my students did not have any problems with the way I spoke. They accepted it since they saw that I had accepted it.
And so, I started out to find a job as a history teacher. This was a dream come true, but a dream that quickly blew up in my face. Quite frankly, it was hard. I began as a substitute teacher at a school that was not as supporting as I had hoped. It had nothing to do with stuttering, I just lacked experience and basic skills to deal with the challenges of teaching. Then I worked at a school that was being reformed, and although both students and colleagues loved me, I was dismissed by the school management for ‘not being good enough’. Last year, I found a school where I fit in and soon, I will start my second year there, hoping to make it work in the long run. Still, even here I have had my problems and struggles.
I was hoping I could end this essay on a positive note, writing something like ‘I made it’. When I mention to other PWS what I do for a living, they look up to me and several have mentioned that they felt inspired by me. But I must be honest: teaching is a tough profession. It requires a ton of preparation, constantly being on your guard and showing self-confidence. There is a constant level of stress that I can only hope will die out over the years when I have gained more experience. However, during my last assessment I was credited for being ‘flexible’ and ‘having almost mastered the art of improvising’. Even though I struggled at times, I always came out on top and to my supervisor, that was prove that I had the makings of a true teacher. Maybe this has something to do with being resilient? Anyway, there is no job I would rather do.
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