Teaching With a Stutter – Rik Mets

About the Author: 

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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Comments

Teaching With a Stutter – Rik Mets — 38 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m a person with a severe stutter and was a teacher for 7 years before moving into administration. Teaching is tough but be yourself and find your own rhythm. It took me 50 resumes and probably 15 interviews to get one offer. But you keep going at each step. The impact you have on students is astronomical. Letting students see a person who stutters do their dream job despite any perceived obstacles making a lasting impact. You won’t reach all students, that’s a tough fact. But you will help to teach them compassion so that when they come across another person who stutters in their lives they’ll know to listen because of you. Keep going and don’t give up. This is a very tough time for teachers but we’re all resilient!

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! The realisation that I can make an impact on students lifes is one of the things that keeps me going (that, and my genuine passion for teaching). A number of students with depressions and anxieties have reached out to me, somehow they see me as someone they can talk to, and I guess that has something to do with my stuttering 🙂

  2. Dear Rik. You DID make it. You followed your passion and became a teacher. And what a teacher! I would have moved just to have you as my teacher! When you speak, we not only listen, we see, as you paint your stories in a way that makes us want to hear more. I’ve known you for some years now and I was never interested in history, until I met you. Now that is true success! 😉 Yes, being a teacher is hard, even for fluent people. I’ve had the pleasure to teach teens who don’t want to be taught, and adults who forgot how to study. Getting, and keeping students’ attention is a daily marathon. Flexibility, passion and personality makes a good teacher. I know you have the personality and my, do you have the passion, and you were credited for being flexible. So yes you made it. The rest is called ‘being human’. 😉

    Stay safe and keep teaching, my friend.

    Anita

    • Dear Anita, thank you for your lovely comment! It’s good to know I have inspired someone to like history, even if that person is not in my class 😉 I hope I can tell you some more stories again soon!
      Take care, Rik.

  3. I love this point: “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.”

    That is such a good realization that these professions can be difficult whether you stutter or not and to be a success in them takes a lot of hard work. That recognition allows us to focus on take action to get better at the role as opposed to worrying about our stutter.

    What do you foresee going forward? Are you having doubts about your success as a teacher and want to try something else maybe or do you think no matter what you will stay the course in teaching?

    • Dear Kunal. It’s so great to see that you understand my point! I would love it if ‘we’ as PWS could move on and realise that life has enough to offer and enough to struggle with, even without stuttering.
      For the forseeable I want to keep teaching at the school I am currently working. I just started out, so I will give it a couple more years. But I don’t intend to keep doing this until my retirement 😉 There are other things I want to try out, but we’ll see how that goes when it comes.

      Take care,
      Rik

  4. Rik – I absolutely love your story and I am so glad you shared. Your story reminds me of something I heard, and had stuck with when I took a career development course. “Find something you love to do, and get someone to pay you to do it.”

    It’s abundantly clear that you love history and teaching. It sounds like you’ve had a few growing pains in the teacher path, but I am confident you will find your groove, and you’ll soon wonder where have the years gone, when you reach the point that you are a master teacher 20 years in.

    I am not a teacher but have worked in educational settings with adolescent and young adult learners for almost 35 years. I did outreach and some capacity of career counseling with that age range. I can barely recall any student lashing out and making fun of me, as they saw that I didn’t make a big deal of it and they just wanted from me what they needed. Young adults are egocentric that way, huh?

    At one point when I was contemplating what I wanted to do for a career, I had
    given thought to teaching, but I quickly discounted that due to my own self-limiting beliefs. I kick myself now, but life is certainly learning the lessons we encounter along the way.

    One thing I did early in my journey was I joined “Toastmasters” (www.toastmasters.org ) which helped me develop courage and confidence with public speaking. Membership is open to anyone that wanted to get better at communication. I was always the only one who stuttered. I always got such a huge kick seeing all the “fluent” people who were absolutely terrified about getting up in front of a group and delivering speech. Those years I spent in Toastmasters, honing my speaking chops, was sooooo helpful.

    Later in life, I also took an improv class, another thing I thought I could never do, but I wouldn’t allow self-stigma to keep me from at least trying. Turns out I loved it.

    It seems you are doing similar things – testing the water, not limiting yourself by self-defeating head chatter and just going for it.

    You conclude that teaching isn’t easy. I know that, having worked in education and seeing the countless hours and devotion teachers have for being the best they can be for their students.

    You have made it! And you have the double opportunity of not just teaching what you love, but you are opening the minds of young people to learn about an experience they likely have never encountered – stuttering. Anytime adults can stand before young people and succeed in spite of our stutter, or even because of it, there’s always the potential that you’ve changed someone’s life and you might not ever know it.

    So keep up the fight and keep doing what you love. It’s worth it.

    Pam

    • Dear Pam,

      Thanks for your response! It’s funny that you mentioned students being egocentric. In a way, they are. I have found that once students know that I stutter and that I don’t make a big fuss out of it, they sort of lose interest. Not that they don’t care, but they can see beyond the way I speak and focus on what I have to say. They are not always interested in that, but hey, they’re kids, they don’t care about history too much 😉
      I have noticed however that students, especially the ones with depressions or troubles at home, like to talk to me. Just small talk or other things. As if they see in me someone who hasn’t always had it easy, but overcame it. Someone they can easily talk to. So when you talk about changing students life’s, I hope I can achieve that, even in a small way. And I don’t even have to notice it, it can happen later in life too. That’s what makes my job even better 🙂

      All the best!

      Rik

  5. Hello Rik I have just sat and read your paper and it brought sun shine into my heart.I am an early childhood teacher who stutters .I have found acceptance from the children , colleagues and families. But your story is so inspirational as you share honestly and positively and you certaintly inspire me.

    • Dear Phyllis,

      Thank you so much for your kind response! It’s great to see my story can inspire someone!

      All the best,
      Rik

  6. First of all I’d like to thank you for sharing your story. Your resilience touched me and I’m inspired by your passion and work ethic. As a current graduate student in a speech-language pathology Master’s program I can relate to just how challenging higher education can be. Although I am not a PWS, I still have my fair share of nerves and anxiety when it comes to public speaking. I’m curious, did you ever seek out speech therapy or did you not feel it was not necessary in your situation? If not, what were some of the strategies you’ve learned along the way that help you during public speaking situations?

    Thanks again for sharing! You’re resilient!

    • Hi!

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I received speech therapy as a young child and later on as a teenager. Both were focussed on ‘curing’ my stutter, which obviously didn’t work, but it did help to come to terms with the way I speak. As an early adult I accepted it and basically used it to my advantage at times. For example, I asked my students if they were annoyed by my stuttering during class instructions. One of the responses was: ‘Well no, I can keep up with my notes when you speak.’
      My main strategy is that I do not let my stuttering bother me and that I am open about it, so students accept it pretty early on as well. And I think that is something that people can use in any situation where public speaking is involved. If you let the audience know that you are nervous or something like that, they will accept it, because you are open about it. I hope this answers your question!

      All the best,
      Rik

  7. Hello Rik,
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story! Congratulations on following your passion and reaching your goals! What a great role model you are for your students. As a speech pathology graduate student currently interning in schools, I am curious if you’ve ever received services? If so, would you mind explaining what that looked like? Thank you!

    • Hi!

      Thank your for your comment! I am assuming that by ‘services’ you mean something speech therapy? In that case, yes, I did some speech therapy as a young child and later on as a teenager. I still use some technigues from the latter at times, but not knowlingly. However, my main focus is on accepting my stuttering and showing to people that I am not bothered by it, so they don’t have to be either. For my students, I feel that it is important to show them that you can follow your dreams (within limits of course), even if you have something that might be holding you back.
      I hope this answers your question.

      Take care,
      Rik

  8. Hello Rik!
    Your story is a great inspiration, whether you believe it or not! It does not even have to be an inspiration because you have a stutter, it is inspiring because despite other people doubting you and making you feel less than adequate, you still made your dreams come true! I wanted to ask, did you ever encounter another person that stuttered like you? Whather that was when you were growing up in school, a family member, or a current student? And if you did, how did those interactions shape you?
    Thank you for your story and your time.

    • Hi!

      Thanks for your nice comment 🙂 Over the years, I have met a quite number of people who stutter, mostly through meeting with the Dutch Stuttering Assocation and at youth meetings. Besides that however, not really.
      My father used to stutter, but he grew over it when he met my mother, and we never really discussed it. It’s a bit of a shame, but he just didn’t like to talk about it. But from what I heard later on, he had quite a severe stutter, especially when he was excited.
      As a teacher, I have had one student who stuttered. She was very cool about it. She actually came up to me after my first lesson and said that she stuttered, so I wouldn’t think she was making fun of me!
      I don’t really know how those interactions shaped me. What I hope to achieve by teaching and interacting with other people, is showing them that you shouldn’t let any personal obstacles stop you from doing what you want to do. It’s exactly what you wrote, it’s not just about stuttering, it’s about all ‘handicaps’. What matters is what you make of it!

  9. Hello! I want to begin by saying your story is very inspiring and you are a great role model for others to follow their dreams and never give up no matter what life hands you. I am a current speech-language pathology graduate student and I appreciated reading your response to others concerning what speech services you received due to your stutter. I love how you mentioned in one response that your overall focus is accepting your stutter, not so much eliminating it. This shows resilience and determination to follow your dreams despite any hardships that may come about. Thanks again for sharing your story!

  10. Hello, I want to start by saying this story really has inspired me and to also state you are an amazing inspiration and this story will help others immensely. I also have a couple of questions. First off what kept you going and gave you the reason to become a teacher overall? Also, who has been the encouraging person that you have encountered or your inspiration? Thank you for sharing this story!

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. I will try to answer your questions 🙂

      Firstly, the reason I wanted to become a teacher after all is because I love History and this was one of the ways I could turn my hobby into my profession. Also, I enjoy working with students, young people who are still at the start of their lives, and see if I can make an impact on them.
      The person that inspired me most was Herman Finkers. He is a Dutch comedian who I loved growing up and I still listen to his bits on Youtube regularly. He has the sort of humor (silly, very dry and at times a bit dark) that I greatly enjoy. Later on, I learned that he stutters as well. If you watch his early shows, you can see that he has learned the words by heart, so he can say everything without stuttering. For me, that was a great inspiration, because here was someone who was dealing with the same issue I had, but turned it into his advantage and became a great comedian. So, up to this day, I love the guy and he has been my greatest inspiration.

      All the best!

  11. Hi Rick!
    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your bravery. Your journey is so inspiring. I find it so interesting how you mentioned that earlier in your career you began with writing because it was easier. You didn’t have to speak. That being said, you realized that your real passion was teaching. Instead of succumbing to what seemed to be a challenge, you went for your dream and you pursued it. Even after facing failure and doubt, you chose to see the positive, to focus on your strengths and to follow your dream. That is so inspiring and incredible. You should be so proud!

  12. Hi Rik,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Being a teacher is very hard in general and you pushing through and showing your confidence is amazing. I love that you have chosen to be positive through everything and focus on your strengths. This was an inspiring read and thank you again for sharing your story.

  13. Hi Rik,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am currently in graduate school earning my master’s in speech language pathology. I am curious as to what you mean by you fit in at your new school? Does this have to do with the acceptance of your stuttering? If so, what makes an environment more accepting compared to others?

    • Hi!

      That’s a good question actually. Yes, it does have to do with the acceptance of my stuttering in a way. The school I’m currently working at is a Montessori-school, which means that we focus a lot on the acceptance of all students and the way they want to learn, and give students a great deal of responsibillity in making their own choices. Because we build from the idea that each child is unique, every teacher is so as well! My stuttering makes me a bit of an oddity in the world of education, so this was the perfect school for me.
      I hope this answers your question.

      All the best!

  14. Hi Rik,

    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story. I’m a speech pathology graduate student with many friends who are teachers, and I know how difficult their jobs are on a daily basis even if everything is going their way. But I think you did end your story on a positive note – it is unrealistic to expect things to get tied up in a neat little bow that sounds like a “happy ending.” The positive note is understanding that our successes are really determined by our own actions and resilience over how we fit in wherever we end up. Thank you for putting it into words far better than I could – I know it will help me to be able to point future clients to your story.

    You seem very independent and like you are confident in who you are and your abilities, and as you said yourself are resilient. I was wondering if you had periods of time during your education that you felt discouraged by instructors who judged you based on stuttering – I know you said that your mentors had reservations that they kept to themselves, but were there others in your journey who were vocal about it? If so, how did you deal with it? Thank you again for sharing your experience, and thank you even more for being a teacher!

    • Hi, thank you so much for your comment. It’s great to see that you have enjoyed my story.

      About your question. I can’t really remember ever having someone during my time as an education student who was critiqual about it. There questions, for sure, people were wondering how I was going to do it. But no one spoke about their reservations to my face (though I can imagine they did so behind my back 😉 )
      I do remember during high school that there was an English teacher who said that I had to work on my stuttering, otherwise I would never learn to speak English correctly. I think it worked out fine however!

      All the best!

  15. did you eventually prove them wrong?
    if so how did they react when you proved them wrong and what did they say to you?

    • Hi!

      I’m not sure I understand your question correctly. If by proving ‘them’ wrong, you mean my mentor and my supervisor, then yes! I proved them wrong by receiving my degree and succeeding in becoming a teacher 🙂

  16. Hi Rik,
    I am currently in graduate school for speech pathology. During undergrad, one of my college professors was a PWS and I know for a fact that I learned more from her than the subject she taught. At the beginning of the semester she informed us that she was a PWS but never mentioned it again after that day. Nobody focused on her stutter. She was brilliant and that was what we saw! By having her as our professor we all learned a little about compassion, patience, and our very wrong tendencies to judge others. I think we all came out better from having her as a teacher. YOU are doing this for people daily! Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and thank you for using your voice to teach not only history, but so much more!

    • Hi! Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, I hope that I can achieve the same thing your professor did for you and your fellow students. If so, I don’t care how much my students learn about History, they learnt something much more important 🙂

      All the best!

  17. Hi, Rik
    I am currently in my undergrad for speech pathology. I really loved your story. I have a professor that has stutter and I honestly find it to be such an amazing opportunity to be taught by him because he does go through that on a daily basis. It was a great way for me to find more compassion and patience for a PWS. I am so happy that having a stutter didn’t stop you from pursing what you wanted to do. I bet you are an amazing teacher. I wish you luck on future endeavors!

  18. Hello Rik!

    I was once a high school teacher (now I am in school to become a Speech Language Pathologist) but I completely understand your post! Yes, teaching is a tough profession and it comes with so much stress that is not mentioned in the job description, but teaching is also rewarding. Seeing the children everyday and knowing that we are actually making a difference in their lives is enough for me! But… with all the work and stress that comes from teaching, I can truly say that you are an inspiration! Continue to do what makes you happy, despite of you stuttering and continue to teach. All of the hard work will pay off!
    Thank you for this post!

    • Hi! Wow, thank you for your comment! That is exactly what keeps me going, seeing the students every day, watching them grow and learn, just having a chat with them. That’s what makes the job fun 🙂

  19. Rik,

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I am currently a graduate student working to become a speech language pathologist. My family has faced many struggles as I have grown up and it was very encouraging for me to read your story and how you keep going despite the obstacles. Your one sentence, “They accepted it since they saw that I had accepted it.” really stood out to me and encouraged me.

    • Hello Eliza,

      Thanks for your comment, it’s great to see that you have been encouraged by my story. I think that acceptence is the key, not just in the case of stuttering, but with all struggles in live.
      I wish you all the best!