National Stuttering Association

Derek SutorSpecial Education Teacher

    Derek Sutor

    Lisle, IL
    Special Education Teacher/Department Chair
    Geneva High School

    Briefly describe your daily job duties.
    I am a Special Education teacher in a co-teaching setting, teaching Algebra and Geometry. I also serve as my school’s Special Education Department Chair, overseeing the Instructional Assistants, serving as a liaison between the Special Education department and administration, coordinating school-wide testing for students with accommodations and serving on building leadership committees.

    As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
    Being an educator and a coach, verbal communication is essential in building relationships, whether it be with my students in class, players I coach, my colleagues I interact with throughout the day, parents I communicate with on the phone or any other interaction I may have. Being able to communicate thoroughly is vital in my roles. There are situations that come up throughout my day where I may need to have more difficult conversations than normal, so making sure I say exactly what needs to be said is important.

    Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process? If so, how did you do it and how do you currently disclose your stuttering to unsuspecting co-workers, clients and or customers?
    I openly told the hiring committee that I had a stutter and that I actually use it as a tool to build relationships with students, showing that I have my own hurdles and obstacles to overcome on a daily basis. I am always open and honest with colleagues, letting them know that I have a stutter and I may have disfluencies from time to time. I know that the majority of people do not pay attention to my stutter, but I sometimes inform people beforehand that I have one, just for my own piece of mind. It allows me to enter a conversation calmer, knowing that it’s out there.

    Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
    Stuttering shows my vulnerability. As an educator and a coach, we consistently preach to our students/players that we all have a story and adversity that we must face on a daily basis. Whether it’s a disability, a disorder, balancing schoolwork/a job/sports/life, we all have things on our plate that we deal with on a daily basis and must overcome day in and day out. I try to show the students that even though I have something that could hold me back, I don’t allow it to and can perform my job duties to the best of my ability.

    What is your proudest moment at your current company?
    In 2019, I was honored as the High School Teacher of the Year for my county. The award meant more to me than most know, simply for the fact that, in 2011, I almost quit the teaching profession because my fluency had gotten so bad. I was at a low point in my life, barely able to say a complete sentence without a prolongation or a block. It was then that I decided to get some intensive help at a speech therapy clinic on the east coast for two weeks. After two weeks of staying in a hotel and attending the clinic for two weeks, I had the confidence to know that I had the tools to be in control of my fluency. Since that day, it was a journey of continuing to work on my fluency, building more and more confidence each day. Being honored as a High School Teacher of the Year made it feel that things had “come full circle”.

    What are your long-term career aspirations?
    I am currently continuing my education for a second master’s degree, with it being in Educational Leadership with a Principal Endorsement, which would allow me to pursue an administrative role in the schools. I would like to be a Director of Special Education or a Student Services Coordinator, being able to stay in the field of Special Education, but in more of a leadership/administrative role.

    What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
    You have so much to offer and do not have to be defined by your stutter. We are not defined by what happens to us, but rather how we respond to what happens to us. Embrace your story and allow it to help you along your journey. There will never be a case where your stutter is completely gone, but knowing that you have the tools and the ability to manage it is such an empowering feeling. You are a stutterer … be proud of it!