My life was dramatically transformed because a simple three-word phrase was delivered at the right time in just the right way. When I was three years old, my parents discovered I was totally deaf, a situation which forced them to make crucial decisions about my education.
After consulting with numerous specialists and doctors, they made a decision that would forever alter my future. Instead of sending me to a private school for the deaf, they decided to “mainstream” me. All of my peers and teachers would have normal hearing.
Since I started going there in 3rd grade, I was the only deaf child at Blue Creek Elementary School in the small, quiet town of Latham, New York. From almost the first day there, the other kids taunted me and called me names mainly because of my hearing aid and the way I talked.
I remember thinking, “What have I done wrong?”
My hearing aid was a rectangular box that was harnessed to my shoulders and hung from my neck like an albatross. It created a big lump on my chest with wires running from the box to my ears.
I experienced great anxiety throughout elementary school because, in addition to the problems of “fitting in” with the other students, I also struggled mightily with most of my schoolwork. I seemed to spend every spare moment doing homework just so I could keep up. The teachers didn’t know what to do with me.
Because of my hearing disability, I was constantly asking everyone, “What did he/she say?” But I worried that everyone would soon grow tired of repeating everything back to me. Since fitting in was so important to me, every time people around me laughed or smiled, I did the same even though I usually had no idea what was going on.
When the kids made fun of me, I internalized all of it. I was sure that I was a bad person; I felt I deserved their sneers. On the surface, I was gregarious, outgoing and happy-go-lucky, but in reality, my self-esteem was quite low. I saw myself as an ugly buck-toothed kid wearing a weird-looking box around his neck who wasn’t smart enough to keep up with the rest of the kids.
Mrs. Jordan, my 5th grade teacher, changed all of that with a simple three-word phrase. A large woman with salt and pepper hair, and twinkling brown eyes, Mrs. Jordan had a voice that boomeranged off the walls of her tiny classroom.
One morning, she asked the class a question. I read her lips from my front-row seat and immediately raised my hand. I couldn’t believe it — for once I knew the answer. But, when she called on me, I was afraid. Here was an opportunity to impress the powerful teacher and show her I was worthy of her love. Maybe even impress my classmates a little. I didn’t want to blow it.
Despite my fears, I felt uncharacteristically confident because — for once — I was sure I had the right answer. I took a deep breath and nervously answered Mrs. Jordan’s question.
I will never forget what happened next.
Her response was explosive. It startled all of us.
Mrs. Jordan enthusiastically slammed her right foot on the floor and whirled her right finger in a full circle until it pointed directly at me.
With sparkling eyes and a wide smile she cried, “THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!”
For the first time in my young life, I was an instant star.
My heart burst with pride as an ear-to-ear grin filled my face. I sat a little taller in my chair and puffed out my chest. My confidence soared like never before. I decided right then and there that I would make a place for myself in this world. A simple three-word phrase delivered with incredible enthusiasm had totally transformed my young life.
“That’s right Stephen!”
From that day forward, my grades and speech improved dramatically. My popularity among my peers increased and my outlook on life did a complete turnabout.
And it all started with Mrs. Jordan. “THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!”
Stephen Hopson is a former award-winning stockbroker turned inspirational speaker and author