ADHD: Give yourself a reason to pay attention in school
How this one simple "friendly" strategy made all the difference in school...
Johnny is a high school student in suburban Atlanta I interviewed a few years ago; this is what he said:
I discovered something about the way that I pay attention in school when I had this really cool teacher, Lance, who taught me civics. Lance really cared about us kids, and he even liked to stay after class and talk with us about politics and things; he liked us and he loved the subject he was teaching He also coached the drama club.
And I noticed that in Lance’s classes, even when the material was boring, I worked harder to pay attention because I cared about what Lance thought of me. I wanted to make him happy and proud of me, because I liked and respected him.
This made me think about my other teachers. Most of them I didn’t know at all. The kids would tell jokes about them, and we’d just try to get through the class, you know; they really didn’t seem like people. They were just teachers.
So I thought, I wonder what would happen if I got to know some of my other teachers?
I started out with Mrs. Billingham, who teaches math, which is a subject I don’t much like, and I never really liked her that much, either. But, of course, I never got to know her, and she looks sort of like a tank, if you know what I mean. Her giving me a D on my last semester didn’t help, either.
But I tried to get to know her. I went up after class, asked for her help with some things, and asked about her life. I learned that she spent part of her childhood in China and that her parents were missionaries. She decided she wanted to become a teacher because they were.
I was blown away. I asked her if I could come in early for a few weeks, maybe a half-hour before school started, so she could help me catch up. She got really enthusiastic about it, and we did it for two weeks.
Now I have a solid B in math, and it’s not because I’ve become the teacher’s pet or anything stupid like that, but it’s because I’ve gotten to know her, and so now I care about her and what she thinks of me. So now when I drift off in her class, I catch myself and bring myself back.
It’s amazing, you know, what you can do if you want to. And how hard it is to do things, like paying attention in class, when you don’t give a damn.
Darren is a high school student in downtown Atlanta:
I suppose kids have known about this forever, but it was new to me. I say they’ve known about it forever, because the old joke about bringing an apple to the teacher is such a cliche. But, for me, it works.
I don’t literally bring my teachers an apple. But the point is that I try to get to know them. If I’m confused about something, I’ll ask if they can spend some time with me before or after class to work it out. And in that time, I’ll look for opportunities to turn them, in my mind, from a teacher into a human being
I’ve found that some of the best questions are: “How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a teacher?” or, “What subjects were hardest for you when you were a student, and how did you get through that?”
I’ll also look for things that can be conversation starters. One teacher was always wearing this little pin on his suit with an airplane on it. When I asked about it, he told me that he was a pilot and it was a membership pin in the AOPA a pilot’s organization. So I asked him how he got started in that, and that really got him excited and he spent a half-hour telling me about flying So we became friends based on that. I thought it was interesting, and now I’m going to look for a chance to learn to fly when I get out of high school.
I know this sounds like I’m trying to manipulate people, and I admit that I started out with something like that in mind. My mom told me about this after she read Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win Friends And Influence People. But what I found out very early on was that if you ask people about themselves and they tell you things that are personal, you can’t help but start to actually like them and to care about them.
That’s the key to this as a school success strategy. It’s not to try to manipulate teachers, or to become the teacher’s pet, or even to hope that they’ll treat me any better than anybody else or cut me some slack.
What happens is that when I get to know my teachers, I begin to think of them as people, rather than just as teachers. That makes me want to work harder for them, to do better in their classes. Which I do.
And I think they care more about me and work harder to make sure that I succeed.
Getting to know people is my success strategy. I imagine it’ll work just as well when I go to college, and when I get a job. At least my mom says it will, and she was right with this one so far.