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ADHD, You Won’t Defeat Me!

, , , , , , , , | Learning | December 27, 2022

I have ADHD-inattentive variant, which use to be known as just ADD since it doesn’t include hyperactivity. My ADD doesn’t seem to be as severe as some I’ve spoken to, but it is bad enough that I still struggle with it at times. Unfortunately, my father almost certainly has ADHD himself, though he refuses to get an official diagnosis despite being certain he has it. My dad always seems convinced that since we both have ADD, that means I am doomed to face all the exact same struggles and failures he has.

However, ADD or not, we aren’t the same. I admit my homework track record was pretty terrible as a kid; between the ADD and the fact that the homework often felt like pointless busy work to demonstrate knowledge of a subject I’d already mastered, I regularly struggled to find the motivation to complete it. This alone often led to me settling for Bs — or very rarely even a C — when I should have gotten an A, due to incomplete homework dragging my grades down.

My father was constantly frustrated with the fact that I repeatedly got in trouble for trying to sneak time to read whatever personal fiction book I’d brought that day in the middle of a lesson if I felt the teacher was repeating a lesson I’d long since already mastered. But for all my faults, I honestly loved — and deeply valued the opportunity — to learn. I always, ALWAYS made sure I had learned the lesson being taught to me and usually aced my tests as a result.

By contrast, my father had told me about how he was the first in his family to graduate college at all and how he thought all he needed to do was to get barely-passing grades that would get him that diploma. He didn’t try hard enough to learn the material or excel in class at the time and only later learned that a barely-passing college diploma was not as useful as he had hoped. He always feared I’d make the same mistakes as him, never realizing that I was too driven to learn to ever write off my education as he did. He was always desperate to keep me from making his mistakes when that was never a real risk; I was happily making a whole new set of mistakes all my own, instead!

In my second year of high school, I went with my father to the “meet your teachers” event before the school year started. After the usual teacher introduction, my father dragged me up to speak to my future chemistry teacher.

He then proceeded to introduce me by explaining:

Father: “[My Name] doesn’t focus on class or do their homework. If you catch them not trying to learn, you should let me know.”

I was frankly both embarrassed and deeply offended by this. For starters, I did pay attention in class; despite my struggles with my ADD, I was never going to miss my chance to learn one of my favorite subjects. My father casually dismissing all the effort I put in to master my lessons, when my intellect and my actually learning and retaining what was taught to me was a major source of pride for me, left me feeling insulted and somehow diminished. There was, of course, the other issue: my father had just ensured that I had the worst possible first impression with a new teacher.

Back then, one of the “tricks” I used to help me stay focused in class was to try to find a question to ask whenever I felt my mind drifting, as both the act of thinking through the material enough to come up with an insightful question and the act of asking it and getting more engagement with a teacher tended to help me redirect my attention to where it should be. The only problem was that for the first few months, my chemistry teacher made it clear that he thought my questions were an attempt to stump him to show off. Every time this happened, I remembered my father’s casual dismissal of my learning and worried that my new teacher was expecting the worst in me.

I’d also find out that this teacher was notorious for his homework. He gave far more extensive work than any other teacher, save one (who I’d get next year). Of course, these two teachers also had students acing AP exams for college credit with so much consistency that the school district had actually sent someone to find out what their tricks were, so at least the hard work wasn’t pointless. Still, given how much I struggled to complete even relatively simple homework, such a massive course load didn’t bode well for me.

Except for one thing: after my teacher got to know me enough to realize I wasn’t just trying to stump him and was actually interested in learning, I came to realize that he really cared for his students. This teacher had a passion to teach and clearly wanted what was best for his students. I found myself, oddly enough, wanting to complete my homework, not for myself but instead for him; he just seemed to care enough that I didn’t want to disappoint him or be the cause of his next ulcer.

My homework track record still wasn’t perfect, but given how terrible it had been before and just how much this teacher overwhelmed us with work, it still represented a marked improvement over what I’d managed in the past. But what I remember most about his class was a moment near the end of the year when it was time for us to pick our courses for the subsequent year. He pulled me aside to talk.

Teacher: “I know you’re still working on getting all your homework done, but I really feel like you’ve learned a lot this year, and you’re doing your best. I’d love to have you join us in my AP chemistry course next year if you’re interested. It will be a lot of work, but I think you can definitely handle it.”

I hadn’t even considered AP courses so early in my high school career, but I knew this teacher wasn’t one to give out unearned praise, and him actually saying he thought I could handle the work really was a bit touching to me, so I couldn’t help but take him up on it.

Of course, the next semester, I found out that my physics teacher had a lot of similarities with my chemistry teacher, especially in the load of homework he assigned. Trying to handle both science teachers’ homework loads at once was a true challenge for me at the time. However, I managed to get the top scores — and full college credit — in my chemistry AP exam, and I did the same for the AP physics course the subsequent year.

To this day, I still think back with fond memories of the two science teachers that pushed me to do better than I had been.

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