04 July 2016

ADHD and How My Son Made Me a Better Teacher

It started with potty training. My mom gave me a book on potty training in 24 hours that "really worked" with both me and my brother. I tried potty dolls, juice boxes, M&M and sticker bribes--even pantsless vacation days. He ignored them all and kept trying to tell me about the bath toys he could see from the potty then soaked through whole coach cushions when I couldn't keep him locked up any longer.

That's a cutting board.
He needed a cutting board
to potty.
I clearly had a two-year-old jerk on my hands.

It was worse in kindergarten. A good day was when he only moved his magnet once. We tried short-term rewards, long-term rewards, taking away toys and privileges. Once we even tried an honest-to-goodness southern spanking. Not a single thing seemed to have more than a chance effect on how he acted at school.

It's confusing because sometimes he CAN concentrate just fine. But it's like sometimes I CAN keep my desk clean. Either I make a concentrated effort, complete with a preset plan and follow-through, OR the circumstances are just right and I happen not to have any papers or projects or groceries or confiscated toys for a few brief shining moments. Sometimes circumstances are such that concentration is easier. But sometimes we discuss in detail what will NOT happen for the next 5 minutes so he can finish loading the dishwasher he started on 20 minutes ago.

And sometimes he comes out after being sent to his room for 20 minutes to just finish his homework already, eyes red from crying because he finished his sentences but is convinced he'll have to start over because they're not good enough.

Can you imagine how frustrating that is? To have to consciously focus on NOT singing, on NOT wiggling, on NOT making noises, and NOT looking around, all while you ALSO have to concentrate on writing? For hours on end EVERY DAY?

Maybe you don't have to imagine. It was a completely alien perspective to me, my husband, and my parents who have been helping take care of Paolo since he was two.

1st grade reading award
By the end of kindergarten, we did find one thing that always worked: going to school to have lunch with him. We couldn't do it every day, and I took turns with Daddy and my parents, but those were the days he was ALWAYS good. We didn't dangle it as a reward IF he was good, or threaten to take it away. We showed up and just enjoyed him (and one friend of his choosing) for a little bit, and that was enough to keep him going.

Of course even among the four of us, we couldn't do that every day, and in second grade his trouble focusing started to take its toll on his academic performance, dropping him back to reading levels he hadn't seen since his first semester of kindergarten. We resisted medication until a wise teacher friend of mine simply asked, "Why?" In her own family, she had seen that adjusting the dosage took care of the zombie effect, and her son could actually experience feeling GOOD, about school and about himself.

As Paolo said, "It makes being good EASY!"

In my classrooom, though, I can't very well go out and dose all of my impulsive students, can I?
  • The student who ended up on bitcoin websites during the IPA and had to have paper assessments thereafter.
  • The student who just started snacking from my candy stash because my desk was near the computer.
  • The student who would dutifully show up to make up late work because she couldn't get an assignment on time to save her life
  • The student who always had to come up to me during independent work time to have me explain the directions just for him.
  • Or the student who tuned out my instructions and ignored the video I showed in class AND posted to explicitly clarify any confusion then did the assignment completely wrong and posted a comment on Classroom about how hard it was.

What Paolo made me realize is that these impulses are NOT conscious. Are they aware of what they're doing? Yes, they know what is happening, but not in such a way that they actively chose to start doing it beforehand.

How much less stress is it for me when, instead of leaping to punishment or taking their "choices" personally, I think of these actions in terms of impulses that they act on before they CAN control them? They, like my son, always know it's wrong after the damage is done--whether they admit it or get defensive. It's not that they're evil or even willful--almost the opposite, since their will doesn't always get a chance to enter into it before they've done something regrettable.

He's so old and wise now.
Since I've started looking at the kids who drive me crazy in class with the same eyes I use to see my son, it's a lot easier to, well, forgive them. It's easier to step back and see the reason--or lack of reason--for their actions, and address what needs to happen in that moment. It forces me to step back and set up failsafes to catch those kids before AND after they might lose their focus.

I used to seriously believe my two-year-old was making my job harder on purpose. But if I had been less concerned with changing or blaming him, if I had examined what was happening instead of what I thought should happen--no matter what Mom's 24-hour book said--I could have made BOTH of our jobs easier.

It turns out my son wasn't the jerk in the potty training scenario. But as Paolo says, "Everyone's a jerk sometimes."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is real, raw, and relatable; and as teachers we must remember to see our students as they are. But we also need to believe in them, to foster their growth, and work towards their proficiency. This sometimes means we are pushed to think differently about how to get them there, to reach their needs and help them to achieve what we know they can--whether it is proficiency in language. I think it's okay, valuable, even, to admit that this can be exhausting, frustrating, and challenging, and that we don't always have all the answers, so long as we don't give up.