- A PERSONAL STORY
- by Jean-Pierre Tibi
When my Italian teacher at UCLA, yesterday, asked me to read a part of
the lecture to the class, I tried to avoid stuttering as much as I could. I
paused between each word, unable to let my stutter be revealed or to
"slide" on syllables to have a smoother speech.
Although it was not a very fluent reading, I felt some relief after: I had
read out loud to a class for the first time since 1963! Indeed, 33 years ago I
was told by my French literature teacher at school that I would never read
in class because it was taking too long and disrupting the class. I was
"condemned" to write anything I would want to say. The other teachers
adopted the same "rule", and for all my high school years. The fact that I
was never speaking did not stop the teachers from making fun of my
person in general. It was easy, I could not answer. Everybody, but me,
My grades went down rapidly, and I was then, not only a stutterer but a bad
One year, I could have had a chance to change everything. I had a new
teacher in French literature who was patient with me and would listen to
me. He encouraged me and gave me good advice on how to write an essay.
My grades went up. But he gave me something more. He gave me the
love for writing in French, and, I must say, for writing in general.
Unfortunately, I was 16, and did not take advantage of his generous
personality to reveal my speech to the class who would still laugh at my
head jerks. I continued hiding and avoided all situations where I would
have to talk.
This teacher was physically handicapped: he had to walk with crutches,
having the two legs paralyzed. All the class, who was warning the teachers
about my speech at every beginning of the school year, was also making
fun of him. But, they would not dare doing so in front of him. He was
getting the respect from even the meanest "kids". His classes were
organized, interesting and his attitude always fair toward everybody.
I had a great admiration for him, but regretted I could not confide to him: I
thought he was not like me. How more blind could I be! Only years after, I
became aware of his positive attitude in life despite his severe handicap.
Unfortunately, it was too late for him to know who I really was, and for me
to tell him how much he was helping me and could help me more.
So, when my Italian teacher, the other day asked me a second time to read
to the class, I could not avoid to stutter. The first time I could see "it"
coming, not the second. And all the failures from my memory rushed to
my consciousness as if I was back in 1963. Only that, this time, I was not 13.
At 46, I am used to my stutter. "Him" (in French "stuttering" is masculine,
and it is used mainly as a metaphore to describe how human history
repeats itself) and me are good friends now, even if sometimes I get mad at
"him"! So, I took all my time to stutter, sliding on the first syllable. I could
see, at the corner of my eyes, heads turning: people seemed surprised. But
there was nothing I could do. I continued thereafter, and, feeling relieved
from having to predict my stuttering to return, I could focus on the Italian
accent, at last! I don't remember having stuttered again during the rest of
my reading. I do remember that I was proud of my Italian intonations
after. I felt I was a normal speaker.
Allowing myself to stutter at that moment took me a little away from the
attitude I adopted a long time ago. An attitude of resignation, anger,
shame and fear. I don't say that it was my fault if teachers forbid me to
talk. I just think that my attitude agreed with them. I was telling myself:
"I am not able and not allowed to talk".
My French literature teacher, despite of his handicap was driving a car and,
despite of the stupidity of the young kids he had in his classes, was
organizing with his best students a theater troop to play French classic
writers. I would have loved being a part of it, but did not even consider
I hope this story will say something constructive about stuttering, and
about mistakes we make in judging people, not recognizing sometimes
those who are like us.