I didn’t find out I had ADHD until I became a teacher.
When I was a child, the teachers often snapped at me for daydreaming, NOT paying attention, or looking out the window. In kindergarten the teacher often sentenced me to sit in the Quiet Chair because I played around too much during math–I preferred drawing pictures on my 5’s and 2’s to counting with the red counters. Because of my behavior, the teacher also forced me to miss recess to complete my math work. This spurred a hatred of math for many years, but that’s another story.
My Geometry teacher would scream at me from the overhead almost every day for chatting with my neighbors. Her face turned neon red with anger as she yelled at me while doing a geometric proof.
I always thought, “If you (teachers) weren’t so boring, then I would pay more attention.”
As an adult, after a career in international telecommunications, I went back to school at age 29 to get my Master in Teaching degree. I landed my first job as an ELL (English Language Learners) teacher at an elementary school. I was excited to teach, grateful for the job, and enthusiastic about creating a cohesive multicultural community.
However, I found that when teaching reading using the mandated program I got really bored. In fact, I got so bored I couldn’t stand to teach it. In the middle of the lesson I often found myself making excuses to transition to something else, or spontaneously whip up a more exciting activity for the students. I struggled with finishing paperwork. When preparing for the next day in my classroom, I puttered around in circles like lost puppy. Prioritizing and deciding which task to complete first, next, and last was impossible. I had difficulty sitting still during staff meetings and marathon teacher inservices.
At this time, my husband Kevin got diagnosed with ADD and read Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder as well as Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD. I flipped through both books and felt like I was looking at a mirror- I was finding explanations as to why I couldn’t focus as a child on the task at hand, listen to boring teachers without talking or making a running commentary to my seatmates, or that I sometimes even felt driven by a motor as an adult- even sitting and watching a movie all the way through seemed like an arduous task.
I made an appointment with a psychiatrist, who asked me a series of questions and diagnosed me with ADHD of the hyperactive/inattentive variety. I was relieved to know what was “wrong” with me and why I processed the world differently than supposedly normal people (now I believe that there’s no such thing as normal; it’s a setting on a wash machine). I was also upset and angry that no one had noticed or suggested that I might have a problem growing up.
Yet back in the late 1970’s and 80’s when I was in school, girls simply didn’t have ADHD. Only wild boys who threw blocks got diagnosed with it. Even though I struggled to pay attention in school, I overcompensated by being hyperorganized and got pretty good grades.
I felt comforted when I read Sari Solden’s Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embracing Disorganization at Home and in the Workplace which explained how ADHD looks different in females than in males.
At first, I did tell my closest friends of my recent diagnosis, and they were very supportive. When my husband got a new job in California, I found a teaching job there, as well. (That’s the great thing about teaching–there are kids wherever you go).
At the new school, I tried to hide my ADHD at work. I put on a more somber face and used cautious, deliberate movements. It was painful for me because teachers were not supposed to deviate or supplement the heavily scripted state program. We also administered standardized tests to students every six weeks, regardless of whether or not they could read, write, or speak English. It was like teaching with a straight jacket on, and I cried almost daily to my husband when I came home from work. Despite my efforts to closet my ADHD, it wasn’t good enough. The principal told me, “You’re a good teacher, but you’re too creative for where we are right now.”
I came out about my ADHD to a coworker and told her of my plight. She called The Prentice School, and got me an interview there. It’s a wonderful private school for students with dyslexia and language learning disabilities. Incidentally, there’s a high comorbidity of dyslexia with ADHD/ADD. In my interview, I shared that I had ADHD. I didn’t want to work at a school where I would have to pretend to hide it.
At Prentice, my (dis)ability became an asset. As a teacher with ADHD, I was able to show the students compassion when they struggled with their attentional issues. At the same time, I also didn’t let them use their ADD/ADHD as an excuse for avoiding work.
I looked him in the eye and said, “So do I. Get to work.”
The look on his face was priceless. “#%!&! I can’t fool this teacher with my ADHD excuse.”
Other times when I’ve taught an animated lesson (or I’m spacier than usual), students have asked me, “Mrs. Carroll, did you take your meds?”
Today I don’t make an attempt to mask my ADHD. I’ve chosen to work in a high-stimulus, fast-paced environment where my ADHD is a gift, and not a curse. I also like how I think zippy, creative thoughts, have a wild imagination, and a positive, unconventional attitude. I am able to mentor students who have it, give them insights that a non-ADDer teacher could not. I show them that there’s hope for the future and that it’s possible to succeed no matter what. I’ve also chosen an electrifying path as a teacherpreneur (teacher + entrepreneur) to supplement my giant (haha) teacher salary.