As a junior high teacher, a lot of one’s time is spent controlling the room. Finding the perfect balance between strict and “cool” (always favoring strict over “cool” is the way, fyi, but this ain’t a teaching blog, so I won’t expound) is not an easy thing to achieve when you’re standing in front of that sea of faces.
It was always amazing to me how one student–one kid–had the power to completely change a room. There were certain classes where I had one student I dreaded to see–not because I didn’t like him or her, but because with that student in the room, the net learning achieved in the classroom diminished dramatically.
In other words, a lot of a teacher’s job is crowd control. It’s taking the big personalities, squashing them effectively into obedience enough that information can be shared with the masses, and then after all that is said and done, it is assessment in order to re-evaluate your material.
Because of this, when there is a student who truly has the hyperactive subtype of ADHD (and trust me, as a teacher you begin to tell a distinct difference between correct diagnoses and bogus diagnoses–the ones that really have it, poor kids, very genuinely cannot control themselves or their impulses), much of that teacher’s time is spent corralling that one kid. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not cool. But it is reality. And it’s not the kid’s fault. And it is necessary in order for learning to happen at all on a broader scale.
I remember, midway through the school year one year, getting a new student into one of my favorite, hardest working, most obedient classes. I had long heard the stories about this kid. He was big and intimidating to some of the teachers. He was loud. He was belligerent. And other kids loved him and his rowdiness.
When he came into my class, I was prepared. I had him sit in the front row in the corner, where I could have total access to him. I was not going to let him bulldoze the entire classroom experience.
I remember spending the entire first period he was in the room standing literally by his side the entire class. Every time he turned to say something to someone else, I motioned for him to turn back around, standing directly over him. I lectured like that the entire period, trying to not let it distract as much as I could. While it felt a little over-the-top, my ploy worked, and we got through the class having covered all the material.
Several weeks in, I had him somewhat trained. Some days were still bad. One day in particular, I turned to him and said “before you got here, this class was able to learn great things without interruption. When you monopolize my time like this, you take away my ability to teach all the other 30 kids in this room, and frankly, you just aren’t that important.” Then I sent him down to the office (which is actually not a really great thing to do as a teacher, so I did it very, very rarely.) My message to him was: you are not the center of the universe, and my job is not to babysit you. It is to teach the entire class. As time passed, the message was understood, and my relentless discipline made some headway. The class was never the same as it had once been. But learning did take place, and much more often than not, he didn’t dominate the room at all (which left to his own devices, he would have.)
The thing that chagrins me, though, is that now, several years later, he is the kid I remember. I have vague recollections of a few of the kids in that group–I more just remember the good feeling I got with them. They were a good class. But, besides him, the rest have already vanished into the ether of my memory.
So, what if there was a student in that class, on those days that I was so entirely focused on controlling this kid’s behavior so that I could access the attention of the largest number of students possible, who was sitting near the back, unable to focus on anything I was saying? What if there was a student, a girl perhaps, who wasn’t failing, but wasn’t doing great nor reaching her intellectual potential? Who was really bright, made good comments, but didn’t consistently get her work done because she couldn’t focus on it? A girl who had the inattentive subtype of ADHD, but wasn’t receiving the help she needed?
The fact is, I bet my bottom dollar this kind of thing happened in my teaching career. And that sucks.
What does this mean? Honestly, I don’t have the answer here. I mean, I think people need to be more aware in general of this issue, and of the prevalence of students (especially girls) who have ADHD-I and fall between the cracks in our educational system. I think parents need to be educated and pick up on signs and advocate. I think teachers should too.
But having been both the teacher as well as the poor ADHD-I student being ignored, I must admit that I can’t entirely blame the teachers–even my own teachers–for not seeing what, in an ideal world, should have been seen. They have to focus on what directly impacts, positively or negatively, the highest number of students at any given moment. And unfortunately many times, that’s the really hyperactive kid who can’t help but distract the entire class.
It isn’t cool. But it is the reality.
Tomorrow, I think I’ll talk about some of the signs parents and teachers should look for to try and ferret out the kids that have ADHD-I.