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How a teacher's feedback changed things for a stuttering student

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. And today's story comes from Susan Greenstein Prescott. Her unsung hero is her 12th grade English teacher, Fred DeMayo. One day, he assigned everyone a poem to recite in front of the class.

SUSAN GREENSTEIN PRESCOTT: And I was terrified. I had a mild stutter, and I thought, there is no way I'm getting up there in front of my peers and speaking. So I went home, and I told my mother how I felt. And she wrote me a note asking me to be excused from doing the assignment in front of the whole class. So the day of the public speaking assignment, I stayed after school. So I did - instead of giving it in front of my peers, I gave it to him one-on-one after the school day. And we sat down, and I recited my poem. And I don't remember if I stuttered. But he looked at me when I was finished, and he said, what was wrong with that? And I just sat there, and he said, I liked listening to your voice. And I had never heard that before. I think in his mind it was so minor, and he wanted me to understand I have nothing to be afraid of.

And I didn't realize how empowering that would be for me, and I never thanked him. You know, I graduated, and I just moved forward like a 18-year-old person will do. When I graduated from college, the second job I had was being a corporate trainer. So I stand up in front of people, and I speak. And I do it all the time, and if I do stutter once in a while, big whoop. And I'd like Mr. DeMayo to know that he truly is an unsung hero because he played a big role in my very successful career in my life, and that was life-changing. I don't know where I would have gone if I felt like I had to keep my voice quiet because I was afraid of embarrassing myself. I'd like to give him my thanks for that kindness.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTORTION SONG, "IN THE AIR")

CHANG: Susan Greenstein Prescott. Since recording this story, she has found a way to reach Fred DeMayo, and she plans to write him a letter saying thank you. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to us at myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.