Put Your Tongue Behind Your Teeth

Often in life, you have to look back in order to look forward.


During our fourth grade year in elementary school, a friend of mine who I would grow up and graduate college with were pulled from class. Apparently, our teacher had been watching how we formed our words while speaking. We both developed a habit of saying words with “s” with our tongue protruding under our teeth. It is a strange way of doing that, not too strange I suppose, but different enough to cause attention. As I write this, I am actually uncertain how we even pulled it off, nor where we initially modeled that act from.


A speech counselor of some variety and sort escorted us out of class. We walked from our classroom to another room where we would begin our exercise of reversing this particular practice. We were joined by another classmate, making three of us in this small room sitting around this parallelogram table. We each were then asked to speak for about fifteen to twenty minutes. This would last a duration of an hour, and we would be sent back to class. Our quarter hour or so spiels would range in a variety of topics, from pet cats to kid sisters. However, it would not be our diverse interests of discussions that made our time in that cramped space worthwhile.


We were also asked to speak aloud, these various speeches, with our tongues behind our teeth.


Now, sure, looking back it is a strange way of rectifying this particular ill-formed manner of speaking. We talked for an hour with that self-centered air of children who believe closing their eyes will send them to Mars and despite bullies and bad grades, their world revolves around them. And we did this self-assuredly, with our tongues pressed against backs of our top front teeth. So, we spoke like Charlie Brown’s teacher as a means to correct our speech. It was a wonderful lesson on more than one layer.


Change is always challenging especially when it involves correcting a habit. It typically feels less stressful to embrace a new pattern than to alter an old one. What I learned from that hour a week talk with my tongue behind my teeth is that simple, yet steady practices work.


In altering this speech trajectory, first thing I note is that, it had to be done. That is, it was done. A counselor was called, we were picked out of class(no matter how embarrassing that might have felt), and we got it done. An action was implemented where a solution was necessary. Hardest step in a journey is its first one.


Secondly, that our action was from an experienced counselor/therapist was crucial to this process. Guidance matters. Had our teacher simply said,”You should not talk like that”, we might still be pronouncing our words like Sylvester The Cat. It was a situation that demanded more that words of instruction. It was a situation that demanded more than modeling. It was a situation remedied by coaching. A persistent and dedicated supervisory role with a focus on crafting a consistent change of performance.


One last thing I would note here before I send you off is that we had to make a sacrifice. Or, a sacrifice had to be made by our teacher. Class time at that age is precious. One missed note, one missed paragraph from a text, or one even one missed question from a student that could alter how a lesson is presented and understood and a student’s entire grade point average could be impacted. Sacrifice is when you give up something important, something necessary, something of value for something else valued more or needed more.


In wrapping up, a reverse in trajectory demands Actionable instructions, Guidance with precise instructions, and a willingness to Sacrifice when necessary.