As a speech pathologist I have always thought it funny that words are so hard for me. Before entering the intensive care unit to begin evaluation of a patient with a stroke or traumatic brain injury I found myself pausing, asking God for “help with the words” that I would need when I spoke with the patient and the anxious, frightened family. I came to believe that stopping to center myself and think about what I really wanted to say made such a difference in how well it all went.
Later, when working with emotionally troubled children I watched my co-workers, highly skilled teachers and therapists, speaking to those children so clearly, using concise firm directions. They got such good results. I had to practice hard to even begin to order my words in such a straight path. On my own my words were full of “maybes” and “mights” that sapped the power from everything I wanted to say. Speaking that directly felt as scary as the first time I ever swam across the deep end in the pool.
As a part of trying to expand my knowledge of multicultural education I stumbled upon the writings of Lisa Delpit. She wrote so clearly about white middle class women, just like me, who notoriously spoke in an indirect manner. What so stunned me about her writings was the idea that many children misunderstood our verbal vagueness and often did not realize the implied commands hidden in our passive voices. When they did not respond properly to those veiled messages they then got into trouble. So I tried harder to say exactly what I meant– exactly. I began to hate the idea that my speech could confuse children or indirectly make things harder for them.
Now, as a supervisor of graduate students in communication disorders, I have realized that the need for clear speech goes even deeper still. It is also about my power as a woman. Being demure and tenuous is a terrible teaching technique and does not reflect the passion I feel about my work. In order to be an effective instructor for my students I have had to continue to develop clearer verbal skills when giving them feedback, as they become effective speech pathologists. And so this is what I believe: that I owe all those I interact with my clearest words and that I also owe myself the joy and freedom of saying exactly what I want to say.
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