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Today is National Teacher Day, and by the time you’re an adult, you’ve probably had at least one teacher who left an indelible mark on your life. I’ve had my fair share of educators in my life, in and out of the classroom, but there’s one who will always stand out.

When I entered the third grade, I was a nervous wreck. Between that, my parents’ separation and adjusting to a new school, I was probably the most anxious third-grader ever, and my teacher definitely wasn’t winning any Teacher of the Year awards. She constantly scolded me for not writing in print, even though cursive was something my father had spent two years reinforcing at home. What a rip-off. All of that hard work for nothing.

By fourth grade, I’d developed a stutter.

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Mrs. Adams was my fourth-grade teacher, and one day she asked me to stand in front of the class and speak. I slowly walked up with my head down because I knew what would happen. Up until this moment, I’d been able to hide the fact that I had a stutter. As I started to speak, my words started to jump over themselves, but in my head I sounded normal.

Laughter erupted from the classroom.

Then my tears started flowing.

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My teacher walked me back to my desk and whispered in my ear that she wanted to speak with me after class. Once the students left, she sat down next to me and asked me to write down what I wanted to say in class.

So I wrote.

By the time I was finished, my paper was soaked with tears. She took my paper and read it to herself and handed it back to me and said, “Your gift is in your writing, but something has broken your voice. Never let them break your voice.” She picked up my backpack and took me to the classroom next door, where I met my soon-to-be speech therapist.

During fourth grade, Mrs. Adams made me her project. She taught me to walk proudly and hold my head up high. She made sure I was in speech class every day. When the last day of school came around, we all had to stand in front of the class and talk about our summer plans. I took my pad and proudly walked up to the front and found my voice. It wasn’t perfect, but I knew I was on my way.

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Throughout the rest of my education and life, I’ve always carried with me those words from my fourth-grade teacher: “Never let them break your voice.”