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An English teacher's response to a stuttering student changed her life

Susan Greenstein Prescott in high school.
Susan Greenstein Prescott
Susan Greenstein Prescott in high school.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

When Susan Greenstein Prescott was a high school senior, her English teacher, Fred DiMeo, gave her a terrifying assignment: Recite a poem in front of the whole class.

"I had a mild stutter. I'd be trying to get a word out that might begin with 'D' or a 'TH' and the word wouldn't come out, or I might say 'the' three times," Greenstein Prescott said.

The thought of getting up in front of her peers and stuttering through the poem was too much to bear. Greenstein Prescott went home and revealed how scared she was to her mom, who agreed to write a note asking for her to be excused from doing the assignment in front of the whole class.

When the day of the recitation came, Greenstein Prescott recited the poem one-on-one to DiMeo. Once she was done, he said something she'd never heard before: that he liked listening to her voice. For the first time, she considered the possibility that public speaking didn't have to be a source of dread.

"I think in his mind it was so minor and he wanted me to understand I have nothing to be afraid of," she said.

Greenstein Prescott plans to follow up with her former teacher.
/ Susan Greenstein Prescott
Susan Greenstein Prescott
Greenstein Prescott plans to follow up with her former teacher.

Greenstein Prescott went on to graduate from high school and go to college. She never got to properly thank DiMeo. But sometime after college, she landed a job as a corporate trainer. The new position made her realize how big an impact he had had on her confidence.

"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," she said.

Greenstein Prescott recently found a way to contact her former teacher, and plans on sending him a letter expressing her appreciation.

"He truly is an unsung hero because he played a big role in my very successful career and my life, " she said. "I don't know where I would've 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."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Autumn Barnes