A Teacher with ADHD?

I didn’t find out I had ADHD until I became a teacher.

ADHDacdcAs soon as I found out, lots of feelings exploded inside of me- I’ll tell you about that in a minute.

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.

teacher-yellingIn high school, my ninth grade English teacher pleaded, “Nancy, would you just stop talking?”

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.

Bored_664450However, 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.”

The Prentice School
The Prentice School

prenticeI 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.

headspinningOne time, a seventh grade boy said, “Aghhhh! I can’t focus. I have ADHD.”

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.

 

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31 Comments

  1. Mick Wiley
    June 10, 2013
    Reply

    Nance,

    I enjoyed reading your personal and teaching history….loved the following quote” if you guys were more interesting, I wouldn’t” be so bored.” It”‘s also great that you mentioned prentice. I just wished you had mentioned the Nancy Carroll ADHD foundation.

  2. August 1, 2013
    Reply

    This is very similar to my life story! I was punished so much as a kid for daydreaming and not paying attention… I loved reading, but I hated math so during math class I used to sneak a book into the bathroom and hide out and read… or I’d just look otu the window and make up stories in my head. I barely went to recess at all because I was always staying in finishing homework I’d forgotten to do, lost, or left at home! But I was always just told I was a “bad” kid. I didn’t get diagnosed with ADHD until I was an adult. I still have many family members who would prefer to believe that I “just don’t try hard enough.” I went back to school to become a special ed teacher, and I got my degree in 2012. I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding a job though. There is definitely a lot of focus on those extremely boring scripted programs (they’re scientifically based don’tcha know!) Wish me luck on finding a job as great as the one you have!

    • August 4, 2013
      Reply

      Nicki,
      All the best in finding a job! Where are you looking for a job, and what kind of position are you seeking? In the meantime, go here now to
      Extra Money for Teachers to start generating an income as a solid plan B.
      Warmly,
      Nancy :>

  3. Denise
    September 19, 2013
    Reply

    Great posts, I am a teacher at a “day school” for students that are emotionally disturbed( adhd, bipolar, environmental issues) I too have had the label..Most teachers don’t like me cause I don’t make my students sit in a desk for 7 hours, I keep them busy, am flexible and may change my plan to meet student needs.I may do crazy things to get them to learn and THEY DO..My methods do not always meet the current evaluation system… I have been criticized by administration and peers. In the 5 years at the current job, every parent has stated and would defend that I am a good teacher and they saw great improvement in their children. I believe it is my calling from God but that is not good enough for my principal who is a bully and uses intimidation tactics to “scare” me into being what I am not.

    • September 19, 2013
      Reply

      Denise,
      Thanks for your comment. Are you in a public or private school?
      Warmly,
      Nancy

  4. Denise
    September 19, 2013
    Reply

    It is part of the public school system. The school is K-12 but all students are ED.

  5. shannon
    November 29, 2013
    Reply

    Hello. I’ve taught elementary for 19 years, and was diagnosed about a year and a half ago with ADD. Gosh, lots to share, however, I will stay focused. I am looking for resources already created by teachers with ADD that have proved successful for them. What paperwork methods have you put into place. Lesson planning structure? I have not found a go-to resource out there from those that have gone on before me. I know there has to be ADHD teachers that have discovered how to succeed in the classroom with time management and paperwork organization solutions? I am determined to find them or be the first for those looking for the same thing I am. Thoughts? 🙂

    • November 29, 2013
      Reply

      Hi Shannon,
      What grade do you teach? What do you like best about it? It sounds like you’re looking for some overall systems that can help you tame the paperwork monster.
      1. First of all, have you read Women With Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life by Sari Solden? It’s not for teachers specifically, but it does address the issues germane to women with ADD.
      2. Soon after I was diagnosed, I chucked the traditional teacher planner and jumped to an At-a-Glance Planner and haven’t looked back. It’s divided into 15 minute increments, so I can pace myself throughout the day. It’s much easier than going back and forth between your teacher planner and your personal calendar. Just write down your personal appointments after school, put down when you pick up your kids, get your hair done, etc. AT-A-GLANCE 2014 Weekly Appointment Book, 8.81 x 11.38 x .56 Inches, Navy (70-950-20)/>
      3. What specifically is your biggest paperwork challenge? I’ll write some how-to posts on them in the future.

      Keep checking back, and do update me on your progress.

      You CAN do this!
      Nancy

  6. Shannon
    November 30, 2013
    Reply

    Thank you for your reply. I have not found anyone that comes close to understanding to talk with. I teach 3rd grade and I do love the mind and heart of 8 year olds. I’ve always been able to connect with their spirit as a person. Over the last 4 years the increase in responsibilities, plus paper and time management issues, my performance/productivity/efficiency has declined dramatically. A major shift has occurred as a result of the struggles — all for good only by Grace. Healing, restoration, and freedom from years of bondage has begun to blossom from seemingly dead places. I’m found at present feeling alive, happy, and lost for direction to move forward in organizing. I am really tired of “feeling my way” in the dark. I do believe, however, there is a purpose. So here I am, in the moment, working on lesson plans for next week. My goal is to create a working living breathing “master schedule” for the entire day — broken down into entire lessons –into sections –into minutes. I have to prepare more in depth and stay on a schedule. There is no time for any rabbit trails. I’ve just this past week got an early Christmas present tablet to streamline everything into one app. — home and school. I’ve tried many, many checklists, calendars, strategies… you name it, Ive tried it. I am moving forward -stuck right now in a procrastinate drudge. To answer your question of what is my biggest paperwork challenge is hard to explain. Every piece of paper/other does not necessarily have a place. If I knew where to put it I would. (I do have some changes is place) Simple student paper procedures for classwork, homework, late or makeup work are not consistent for me. Things that are put away that I cant see get forgotten about. That is why the master schedule is so important. I will have a plan to follow that will take everything out of my head. But, I haven’t completed any stages yet to benefit from the plan. That is where I am right now. There is somewhat of a vicious cycle of not knowing what I need to help, even though I do know what is wrong. I have some paperwork systems (need more) and a schedule but, neither are effective unless I schedule the time to spend working them simultaneously which I haven’t done before. It’s all being written as I go. I have a lot of catch up duties at school waiting in line to be addressed, not to mention what needs to be addressed at my home. I’m on the journey. It will be for good.:) I guess I need suggestions that I can turn right around and do them. Not a general plan that I have to decide specifics overall. Looking forward to your thoughts.

    Thank you,
    Shannon 🙂

    • December 1, 2013
      Reply

      Hi again, Shannon.
      I taught third grade a few years ago- it’s an endearing age.
      Anyhow, demands on teachers have skyrocketed in the last few years have skyrocketed.
      My suggestions:
      1. Create a master schedule. Write the class schedule on the board before school for the kids to see. This helps with behavior, too.
      2. For every lesson, write agenda (What they are going to learn/lesson objective/learning target) and materials needed on the board. This will help you focus on what you’re teaching.
      3. In the morning, assign a job to a student who will come up to lead the kiddos in reading the schedule and they read chorally. This helps set the tone for them and helps keep YOU on track.
      4. Put the master schedule in your planner (or tablet) in addition to your personal appointments, hair, pick up your kids from soccer, grocery store, etc.
      5. If you think of a random idea put an exclamation point next to it with an idea on a post-it note and plop it on your planner. By the end of the day, take care of the random idea, or enter into Evernote.
      6. Download the app Evernote for your tablet and use to record notes, ideas, take pictures, etc.
      7. Have a colored folder for every day. (ex. Monday= red, Tuesday= blue, etc.) Put activities, worksheets, etc. for those days in the corresponding day folder.
      8. For missing/makeup work: put a file folder labeled MISSING on the absent kiddo’s desk. Assign another student in the table grouping to make sure s/he gets a copy of any worksheets passed out, and record a “while you were out” sheet for the day.

      Have students take care of as much of the classroom operations as possible, and your life will be easier. They can even help out with paperwork flow!

      Hope that helps! Let me know how it works for you.

      Best,
      Nancy

  7. Tom
    March 17, 2014
    Reply

    So funny I came across this. I similarly went undiagnosed throughout childhood even thought looking back ther were so many signs all over. It was only recently in my 30’s that my family started to put the pieces together in a eureka moment and like u say, it was one of those mirror moments where everything started to make sense. I went through several careers houses, friends and am now a teacher also. Gud to know ther are others out ther who hav been through the same later life realisation. Although it was great to finally see the picture, thers a lot of coming to terms with it as you struggle to understand what is personality and what is disorder. I think it’s even the negative connotations associated with the word “”disorder” that can make it difficult. I take a lot of positives out of your comments about “normal” and for a long time I resented my family and wouldn’t accept it because I felt they were saying “look, it’s ok, we know why u have been so abnormal and difficult in the past”. I still struggle in certain areas (paperwork etc) and I keep it a secret, to avoid concessions or differential treatment. Maybe there is a case to reveal, but it may be a bit of denial still present, thinking you can take on anything, jus like “normal” people 🙂

    • March 17, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks for your comments! Paperwork tends to be quite a doozy for many ADHDers. Why do you feel the need to hide your diagnosis?

      • Tom
        March 18, 2014
        Reply

        Thanks 4 the reply. Think it may be me trying to prove I don’t need peoples allowances or to get preferential treatment. Also, I don’t quiet know what the school would make of it and how they would react. It’s a big unknown really. I just couldn’t see myself saying it because I think they may wonder why is he saying it? Does he want us to excuse certain tasks being skipped etc? Would it be easier to deal with someone else (normal :))?

  8. Tom
    March 18, 2014
    Reply

    In one way its pride i think and not wanting to appear lesser or more incapable than others. If people believe theres nothing wrong with me, its my way of knowing im competing and achieving just like everyone else. Is that bonkers? 🙂

    • March 23, 2014
      Reply

      That’s wild! If everyone were the same, then life would be boring! ADHDers can achieve more and in what interests us. I don’t want to be like everyone else any more.
      All the best,
      Nancy 🙂

  9. Paul
    May 26, 2014
    Reply

    Hi,this is refreshing I have been a closet ADHDer for all my life and only now have I had to face this head on.All my life I had fooled other including myself about my special talent.I have been pushed at work because I am seen as old now being 53 and out of touch.so I am having to revisit my old stomping ground of learning instead of my selective learning.I have done well concealing it away from myself for years but now i have to much in with the other teachers most either being professors and doctors of their profession.So its only just come out I am ADHD only just relized this afternoon.I had put it together I went to a teaching week and froze when I saw we had a workshop with all professors and me so i cryed of with an excuse.But now thinking how many times do I have to do this why can’t I confront and why do I feel like this only do I remember this condition when i was at school when I would love certain subjects and be good at them but hate doing the tests so much that I would nt even do the test through fear of getting the spelling wrong or freezing like i did last friday.My colleagues think over the past year as they have got to know me that I’m a little guarded and i don’t volunteer for some of the work its only because i scared some one will think Im stupid because i have been hiding my special gift.But only today I mean right now while I’m writing this am i realizing another part of me i have been ignoring instead of embracing.So what is next fellow ADHDers ,by the way I love who I am and don’t want to change, just want to have a little more courage amongst the other people the NON ADHDers….Well been nice talking and a bit of a revelation for me as i am just going through my GRADCERT course in perfecting my skills as a teacher please pray for me those of you who believe in GOD and those who don’t think about starting…..Love Paul.

    • May 27, 2014
      Reply

      Paul,
      Thanks for your sharing.
      Are you a teacher, or just starting out?
      Did you diagnose yourself, or have you been diagnosed officially?

  10. Jenny H
    May 26, 2014
    Reply

    I am happy to find other teachers that deal with having ADHD/ADD. I also have learned to micromanage my school day. Does anyone else struggle with: staying very late to finish required paperwork and data (the janitors and I are good friends), every little noise/movement students make bother you too, feeling very overwhelmed in a career that you will always have more to do? I also “crash” (sleep two days straight or no energy for a couple of days) during the first few days of a break because I have to push myself to finish end of quarter/year paperwork. Does anyone else do this too?

    • Jill Davis
      January 25, 2017
      Reply

      we must have been separated at birth . . .
      you put everything i do into words

  11. Paul
    May 28, 2014
    Reply

    Hi I Diagnosed myself as i have been hiding it since I was about 6-7 years old I think.Been teaching 15 years now.

  12. October 8, 2015
    Reply

    I work with 8 prek students diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Disability. I am really struggling now. I was just diagnosed (my therapist as well as myself sorta put 2 and 2 together then that Light bulb moment). My days are chaotic to say the least. I am taking medication, I had to up the dosage in the beginning of school because I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to stay focused and attentive. Now two months into school I can’t really feel the effects I felt in the beginning when my dosage was increased. But I continue to struggle with being organized. I stay late but don’t seem to get anywhere. I am wondering if I am in the right career even though I enjoy this population for the most part. I have made a lot of mistakes over my life (and finally saw that my ADD really was behind it) but it did a lot of damage to my self esteem and self-worth. I want to overcome this but am feeling a little overwhelmed and slightly defeated.

    • December 3, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Marcia,
      Thanks for your comment. Hope you’re doing better. Do you have an assistant or para working with you who could help with the organization?
      For now, having a daily structure and routine will help. Also, making sure your class is super tidy and ensuring every item has a place and a home. If that’s overwhelming, I highly recommend enlisting non-ADHD pals to come help you tidy up on a Saturday or afterschool.
      Let me know how that works!
      Warmly,
      Nancy

  13. Nancy
    December 3, 2015
    Reply

    Nancy, you are an incredible inspiration to us all. I remember once getting sent to the principal’s office in second grade because I wasn’t understanding her instruction of getting into a line and so didn’t. This was a result of rigid almost methodical thinking that’s developed as a compensatory skill for disorganized thinking from my ADHD. My processing speed and working memory are likewise impaired because of my obsessive need to develop a schema for everything I take in from my environment to deter disorganized thinking and the extra processing time to do so. I am very witty with a wild imagination and intense sense of creativity but am also incredibly compassionate for others who are labeled with invisible disabilities and do not get fairly treated by others. I plan on being a teacher but have found that all these aspects of adhd are sometimes not fitting for teaching. Reading this article and your story have inspired me to maximize my potential, embrace my disability and thrive in teaching as you have ao emphatically demonstrated is possible.

    • December 3, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks for your comments. Sounds like you are harnessing the joy of ADHD and taking it in stride. There are ways to organize, compensate, and thrive as a teacher. Where will you start your teaching program?
      Success is the best revenge!
      Cheers,
      Nancy
      P.S. Can you relate to this story?–> http://nancycarroll.net/you-are-a-superstar Keep me posted on your progress.

  14. Lizzie McAndrew
    August 27, 2016
    Reply

    I tried teaching for 2 and a 1/2 years. I had to leave my job in January because of anxiety/depression. In March I was diagnosed with ADD, which, as it turns out was the real reason for the anxiety and depression. I was so stressed out and it was really difficult for me to keep track of things. I want to try teaching again on medicine, but I am scared. I do not want to screw up again and have to leave, but I also don’t want to completely give up on the career without trying it on medicine. Any advice people have would be great!

    Thanks!
    Lizzie

    • January 21, 2017
      Reply

      Hi Lizzie,
      Have you considered teaching at a different venue or smaller school? Sometimes that can help. Did you return to teaching this year?
      Nancy

  15. Wendy
    October 6, 2016
    Reply

    Nancy,

    As a Human Resources professional, I was doing research to assist one of our teachers and found your website. Please inform your readers that they may be entitled to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations at the school where they work, but they must be willing to have a discussion with HR.

  16. Jessica Matthews
    May 28, 2017
    Reply

    Nancy,

    I’m doing some research on SEN and Disability in education for teachers diagnosed.
    Do you feel you that the education system helps SEN and Disability, what support is available for ADHD teachers?

    Jess

    • June 3, 2017
      Reply

      Hi Jessica,
      What do you mean by SEN? (Social-Emotional-Neurodiversity)?

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