The Teacher Who
Made Me Speak
An educator remembers when
he began to build his confidence.
My public life began my junior year in high school. I had a frustrating stutter. I was embarrassed to speak in public, and my self-consciousness made my stutter worse.
It was frustrating because my speech
was fluid when I talked to friends, but
whenever a teacher called on me in
class, my stutter was pronounced. I was
a decent student and fairly popular with
my classmates. Yet I became vocally
paralyzed in the face of a teacher’s
I’m grateful for the specialists who,
throughout my childhood, coached me
on how to work around my stutter by
positioning my tongue in certain ways,
using words with soft consonants to get
started, and so on. But my frustrations
remained. Throughout my first two
years in high school, I found that most
teachers honored an unspoken contract
with me: I would stay on task and
complete my assignments, and they
would not put me on the spot by calling
on me. This held true until I had Mr.
Mattson for U.S. History.
perspectives on events in U.S. history.
But he was the teacher I dreaded most
because he refused to play the hidden
contract game; instead, he frequently
called on me in class.
I tried various strategies to get him to
stop, such as sitting in the back row,
avoiding his gaze, or feebly raising my
hand while everyone else frantically
waved theirs. My last resort was to
me to give a five-minute speech to 400
students. This was my first talk to a
large audience. Although I stumbled
once or twice, my teachers and class-
mates gave me a loud and long ovation,
and many congratulated me afterward.
My stuttering didn’t need to interfere
with offering my ideas to the world.
misbehave so he would send me out of
the room. None of these tactics worked.
Why doesn’t he leave me alone, I kept
One day, following a particularly
painful response during which I became
red in the face, Mr. Mattson asked me to
stay after class. “Carl,” he told me, “I
want you to know that I will continue to
call on you. I know it isn’t easy for you,
but no matter how long it takes, your
classmates and I will wait until you have
completed your thoughts because what
you have to say is worth listening to.”
Mr. Mattson’s words made me realize
that my stuttering didn’t need to stop
me from offering my ideas to the world
and that I should no longer avoid
speaking in class or other public
settings. Shortly after that conversation,
I ran for class treasurer, which required
over the years, but it has persisted
throughout my life to some degree.
However, I did become a public
speaker. I have taught hundreds of
college students, led numerous meet-
ings, and presented to conference audi-
ences numbering in the hundreds and
Copyright © 2010 Carl Glickman.
No More Hidden Contract
Mr. Mattson—a handsome young
teacher whom the students admired—
taught through class discussion. He
provoked students to share their
Carl Glickman attended Newton South
High School in Massachusetts. He is
President of the Institute for Schools,
Education, and Democracy and Professor
Emeritus of Education at the University
of Georgia; Carlglickman@aol.com.