It’s August. The month where I spend hours with my laptop open, staring at blank walls wondering, “What am I going to put here? When am I going to have time to lesson plan? When’s lunch?” Prepping my classroom always proves to be a lengthy and quite stressful process. I’ll start on one thing and then get distracted by another, and before I know it, I’m back to square one.
Teachers, doctors and my rather rude next-door neighbor have all claimed I have a bad case of adult ADHD. As for childhood me, let’s just say I had ADHDD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder double.
Upon hearing my initial diagnosis, my mother knelt down, held me still and said, “Michael, we are not going to give you medicine for this, you’re going to have to learn to manage yourself.” Today, as a teacher, I am still managing and some days battling my adult ADHD. Here are the seven ways I’ve learned to deal with ADD/ADHD as a teacher. If you’ve dealt with any of these feelings, then I hope they can help you too.
1. Embrace who you are.
For many years, I refused to say the letters. I refused to identify as one of those people who dealt with that condition.
When I became a teacher, I learned that I no longer needed to hide. I could say the words and identify with a part of myself. I embraced my ADHD and everything that comes with it. So in my classroom I tell funny stories that are loosely related to content sometimes. I show funny videos at random times during the class period just because they are funny. I fidget freely and sometimes have even been known to run around my classroom when I hear an exceptional answer from a student. The funny thing is, these things are most of my students’ favorite thing about me as a teacher.
2. Take time to fidget.
I know we are all sick of fidget spinners and cubes, but for me the concept has been vital. Children with ADHD have trouble sitting still, focusing and often touching or grabbing everything in sight, and the same can be true for adults As a high school debate student, I learned to flip my pen (a trick all my students try and fail to replicate), as a way to fidget while listening to formal arguments. Now as a teacher with ADHD, I flip my pen all day long to help me focus on the tasks in front of me.
3. Don’t overwork yourself.
I recall a time when I had to send an important email to another member of our faculty while my students worked on a group project in class. “Mr. Yates, the bell is ringing…Mr. Yates…Snap out of it man!” a student had to yell to get my attention. “Sorry guys, go fast to your next class!” I said looking up and standing from my laptop. I didn’t even hear him talking to me.
One of the most interesting things about ADHD for me has been my ability to hyper focus on tasks. When that happens, I devote so much energy to the task that I often don’t hear what is going on around me and certainly do not look at the clock. This often causes me to overwork myself. When you must devote your total focus and attention to a task, be sure you can pull yourself back and take a break.
4. Try to time everything.
Have you ever been in the middle of a super cool lesson activity only to let it run long because you were so busy talking with one group, guiding another and reveling at what a great activity this is while simultaneously thinking about ways to improve it for next class period and even next year only to have the bell ring before you have completed your lesson? Happens to me all the time! So, I time every activity and every bit of direct instruction to keep me on task and on time!
5. Wander when necessary.
While I love my classroom, I often have to get out of there! My coworkers find me just walking the halls during in-service preparation days, my off periods, in the middle of class sometimes…ok I’m joking about that one!
I have need a change of scenery in my school day. When I have an off period I will walk to the gym, the front office, go watch another teacher’s classroom, go outside or anything that’s not in my classroom. I’ve actually benefited in several ways for this. Fresh air and change of view is great. But one day, as I am doing my typical hall wandering, I happened to have my planner as I walked into a friends classroom while her students were working in stations. A few minutes after I walked in, our Principal comes in to do an evaluation of that teacher. She sat next to me and said, “You are doing, on your own, what we are trying to get everyone to do. Thanks for supporting your fellow teachers.” Wander the halls guys! It pays off!
6. Don’t let your students take you too far off task.
Even though all students are angels who love to learn all the time, they do have the occasional day in which they do not want to learn. Sometimes students try to get teachers off task on purpose! I know I couldn’t believe it either but it’s true!
Early in my teaching career this was done quite easily in my class. If my students talked about basketball we would launch into a five to ten-minute discussion or debate about Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or how bad the Knicks are. I lost so much instructional time but actually built really solid relationships with my students. I decided that I wanted my classroom to be a place where this type of random relationship building is okay but students still learn a lot. So I figured out ways to incorporate various points of interest for short bursts of time in the middle of lessons.
7. Cope and medicate in ways that work for you.
Living as an adult with ADHD can be equally as challenging as your childhood days. We all have our own ways to cope and if that means medication for you, do not be ashamed. At the end of the day, the most important role of a teacher is to educate and push students in ways that leads to a changed world. Whether you medicate, meditate, or use exercise, only you know what works best for you.