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How My ADHD Influences Who I Am as a Teacher

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At the first college I attended, I struggled mightily. As a result of my ADHD, I was accustomed to the frustration that came with underperforming in high school. I was constantly getting grades that did not reflect the effort I put in to my work, or my interest in the subject material, because I truly love to learn. I actually really loved most of my high school classes I got C’s in. My senior year I took AP environmental science and while I scored a 5 on the AP exam, I received a C for the course, one of my favorites from my entire four years.

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When I got to college, things only got worse. I went to a demanding and academically rigorous high school, but college was so much harder. Furthermore, I had no idea how to manage my time with all of this new freedom and a substantially heavier workload. I thought I was supposed to just sit and focus and get my work done, and could never figure out why that was impossible for me. I would become so frustrated trying to get my work done, I would often just give up. Either that, or I completely forgot I had homework until right before it was due and I was left to come up with some flimsy excuse to give my professors. I was constantly explaining I had left my homework in my dorm—sometimes I had truly forgotten. Other times I needed to buy myself more time. I once woke up late on the day of a test and emailed my professor to say I was sick, 10 minutes after the test had begun. I actually withdrew from a class because I had a paper due the next day that there was no way I would finish in time.

My professors thought I was a complete screw up. They thought I was lazy and irresponsible. I didn’t pay attention in class because I didn’t care. That girls don’t have ADHD so I must just be unmotivated. Or unintelligent. They never knew that in fact, I missed that last sentence because I was paying attention to everything. That I wanted so badly to just sit and listen like my classmates could. To get my work done in timely manner. But I couldn’t.

Eventually, I did figure out how to succeed. It took a long time, but it started with acceptance. It started when I realized it was OK that I couldn’t finish my homework in one sitting, and rather than try, I needed to build in enough time to take constant breaks. That I needed to write a detailed outline before starting a paper. I’m in graduate school now, set to finish with straight A’s, a feat I never thought possible of myself. I got here, however, on my own and with the love and acceptance of my family. During my first two years of college, it would have meant so much to me if just one professor had reached out to ask, “What’s going on?” It would have meant even more if any of them had seen me as more than the student who was chronically late and struggling to stay afloat.

For the past year, I have had the great privilege to teach some amazing undergraduate students as a graduate student instructor. I never ever want my students to feel like they’re worthless because they need an instruction to be repeated, or they forgot to answer a question on their homework or spaced on something really obvious on the test. They are such fantastic kids, all bright and interesting in their own unique way. I see them for who they are, and not for their grades; I know all too well what it feels like to be a number. The struggle is a gift, and because of my own challenges, I’ve made a huge effort to get to know my students and to put myself in their shoes, because I really see myself in them. I feel lucky to know these students as well as I do, and if my own challenges can help me to raise them up, then I feel lucky to have those too.

Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia

Originally published: July 11, 2017
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