Can you be a teacher if you have ADHD? You better believe it, but there are some caveats.
Adulting With ADHD Staff
A teaching job can be exciting, fun, stressful, and challenging – all at the same time. But when you have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), things get amplified – particularly the stress and the challenge of the job. You do not just have to keep a tab on your students in the class, but you must also deal with issues that fall outside the scope of teaching.
So, can you be a teacher if you have ADHD? Yes, you can be a teacher if you have ADHD. However, you need a strong support system, both inside of school and out. You also need to ensure you’re properly managing your ADHD properly by following your doctor’s treatment recommendations.
Assuming you already know what ADHD is, continue reading to learn more about how the condition plays out in the classroom and outside of it, as well as the things you can do to manage its symptoms.
How Does ADHD Affect Your Role as a Teacher?
People diagnosed with ADHD tend to have trouble being attentive, managing impulsive behaviors, or can be overly active. These symptoms continue and could cause difficulties at home or in the workplace, especially one as chaotic as a school.
As a teacher with ADHD, you can easily get bored. For instance, you would readily deviate from the prescribed lesson and make excuses to shift to things or topics that you find more interesting. Spontaneously or randomly whipping up a classroom activity is quite a possibility, for instance.
Other things you might find challenging include:
- Finishing paperwork
- Prioritizing tasks or ascertaining which ones to finish first
- Sitting still during meetings
Your struggle to stay focused is not limited to school or the classroom. Even when watching a movie with the class, staying still all the way through may be a difficult prospect.
Fortunately, all of these hard-to-do tasks can be made much more manageable with proper treatment. We’ll talk about a few coping mechanisms later in the article, but make sure you talk to your doctor about managing your ADHD so that its effects on your work as a teacher are lessened as much as possible.
Can You Get Away Without Opening Up About Your ADHD?
Generally, you will not come across many teachers with ADHD – also, there are many who stay undiagnosed for long. People usually do not talk about their ADHD since it could feel quite exposing, and also one might even feel vulnerable doing so.
However, whether you talk about it or not, people will eventually come to know about your condition – your actions would give it away. Your efforts to put on that somber face and use deliberate, cautious movements won’t help much. In fact, your ADHD may become apparent during your job interview, particularly if the interview process has a written test.
Another reason you should not hesitate to speak up about your condition is to avoid being labeled as irresponsible or lazy. When your school management and other teaching staff know you have ADHD, they are more likely to accept your shortcomings and offer you increased leeway as a result.
In fact, many teachers with ADHD often end up getting treated better once they reveal their condition to their friends and colleagues. Also, by filling in your principal about your disability, you make an ally that helps you set up your optimal classroom/work environment.
Another reason you should come out in the open about your ADHD is to protect yourself legally. Believe it or not, you are eligible for accommodation if you’re an American who suffers from ADHD, as it’s considered a recognized disability as per the law.
However, to seek accommodation, you’ll need to be able to delineate how and in what capacity ADHD impairs activities in your routine life. The law has been drafted this way because ADHD and similar disabilities manifest differently in different individuals, based on brain function, age, and other factors.
To clearly demonstrate how ADHD spells havoc in your everyday life, you should know more than a thing or two about your condition. Educating yourself about ADHD would help you request a specific accommodation type that would address your constraints at school.
One more thing: in an insightful WebMD article entitled “Should You Tell Your Boss You Have ADHD?”, certified ADHD coach Dave Denison says that you should consider whether you can get your needs met without telling your boss you have ADHD. If your boss isn’t a supportive person, you might find that revealing your condition only makes things worse.
How to Cope With ADHD as a Teacher
ADHD is lifelong; you cannot cure it. And if you’re predisposed to the condition, you cannot prevent it from happening too. It’s something you will have as a kid and continue to have into your adulthood. However, if you understand your condition and responsibilities in life, there are ways to get around the problem or make it have a minimal impact on your life.
First, talk to your doctor and confirm your diagnosis. If you want your school’s administration to take your request for accommodation seriously, you’ll need to have medical proof of your condition.
It’s also important that you’re doing everything you can to manage your condition. As every person is unique, you should talk to your doctor to figure out the best treatment plan for your situation. Trying to manage ADHD without the guidance of a doctor is like trying to drive a car without taking a driving test; sure, you might be able to do it, but it isn’t worth the risk.
Although every situation is different, there are still certain things that all ADHD sufferers can do on the daily to deal with their condition better. Here are a few:
Embrace Your Condition
Accept the fact that you have no reason to hide the condition from anybody. Though people would eventually detect it, it’s important you let them know before they let you know they know. ADHD is a part of who you are, and you must treat it like so.
Keep Yourself Busy
Like kids, adults with ADHD also have trouble remaining still and focused. Depending on the type of ADHD you’ve been diagnosed with, you may feel the urge to touch or grab anything in your sight.
If you do feel the need to fidget, do it in a way that doesn’t make you look restless or rattled. For instance, you can flip a pen while focusing on things in front of you. The fidgeting would also help when you have to sit still and listen to other people talk, such as during a meeting.
Don’t Work Too Hard
As someone with ADHD, you may have the tendency to over-focus on specific tasks. When that happens, you end up devoting insane levels of energy to the job in hand, up to a point where you become oblivious of the other things happening around you.
This often leads to overworking yourself, which is a one-way path toward burnout.
There are a few ways to avoid this.
One way to get around the overworking issue is by taking breaks when possible. However, break opportunities can be rare in a busy classroom, which means you’ll need an “in the moment” way to break out of over-focusing.
A solid option is grounding yourself. There are a variety of ways to facilitate grounding, but the options most appropriate for the classroom are picking up and touching nearby objects, breathing deeply, and walking around the classroom.
Time Things Out
Your ADHD could cause you to get completely immersed in a particular activity, making you forget you have other things on your plate too.
This could happen more often than you realize. It is, therefore, important to time your activities so that you stay on track. You can use a phone alarm, Post-it notes, or anything that could possibly make you more aware of time.
Wander When You Must
If you feel the need to take a break and walk out of your class while the class is in progress, do not hesitate to take that brief hike. But make sure you don’t do that randomly or while actively interacting with your students.
Take the mini-break when your class is busy working on something. Or assign activities to your kids and then take a stroll. Such breaks will help you catch some fresh air and also offer you a brief change of perspective.
Note: You should only do this if your class is older or if you have an aide who can watch the classroom while you’re out. Don’t leave younger children without supervision.
Do Not Get Deviated by Others Too Easily
Students understandably like to ask teachers questions during class. Oftentimes, it’s to clarify something about the current lesson that they’re unsure about.
However, there are also instances when students raise queries just to change the session’s course or distract the teacher. When this happens, it’s easy to deviate from the main lesson and dive into a tangent that, while interesting, may not necessarily fulfill your curriculum requirements.
It’s important to realize that there is nothing wrong with going off on these seemingly random tangents. In fact, they help you build new relationships and strengthen existing ones with your students. And your pupils will certainly learn a thing or two in the process too. However, you have to be careful not to let this become habitual so that you don’t lose invaluable teaching minutes.
Embrace Coping Methods That Work
Different people cope differently with ADHD.
Some people need to be on medication, while others can operate without medicines. If you need to administer medication, do so. Meditation alone may work for some. It may not work for you, and you need to realize and acknowledge that.
At the end of the day, your students and colleagues will not know how you manage your condition behind the scenes. Therefore, you should embrace coping techniques that work for you. If you’re in need of some additional tips, this article from Psych Central on the 12 Best Tips for Coping with ADHD should help.
Organize Things After School
If time management and staying focused are your major roadblocks, spend some time after school simply cleaning off your desk and sorting all your stuff. You will invariably have paper piles on your desk to attend to. Through proper organization, you can make sure you do not work on anything random you see on the table, only skipping to the ones that need your immediate attention.
You can also put your files and various documents in folders with multiple dividers. Make sure you label those compartments so that you know which one is holding what.
If you have trouble reminding yourself about what you should be doing, you can use a to-do list app on your computer or phone to remind yourself to email a parent, give handouts to students, attend a meeting, or do anything else you might need to handle.
The Bright Side of Things
Though ADHD renders teaching a true challenge, the condition can also help you stand out in positive ways or make you excel at your job in ways non-ADHD teachers may not be able to.
- You can be a lot more creative within the classroom. According to Scientific American, people with ADHD have increased creativity, especially when it comes to finding innovative solutions to problems. This can allow you to create interesting and engaging ways to teach subjects that students might typically find difficult or boring.
- You’ll have more energy than the average teacher. According to Healthline, some people with ADHD have incredibly high energy levels, which might make it easier for you to inject excitement and enthusiasm into the classroom.
- You can accomplish certain tasks very quickly. According to Pepperdine University, people with ADHD can “hyperfocus” on some tasks and complete them extremely quickly. This trait can be useful when grading papers or coming up with lesson plans.
As you can see, it’s not all bad; having ADHD can give you an advantage in quite a few ways. And it’s important to have a positive attitude and focus on the benefits this condition can bring, as that will make it much easier to cope with in the often chaotic classroom setting.
Can You Succeed as a Teacher with ADHD?
ADHD conjures up the notion that you would not be able to stick with your job for long. And during the period you are employed, you might think missing work every now and again, having troubled relationships with students and other teachers, etc. would become part of the norm.
It need not be that way, however. There are many professionals with ADHD who have excelled in the workplace, after having adapted to their condition and developed coping skills.
Having ADHD is not necessarily a negative thing – particularly if you appreciate it for its benefits. Many entrepreneurs, politicians, entertainers, business leaders, etc. have ADHD. This includes David Neeleman, JetBlue’s CEO. To overcome your disability, you should not just stop with embracing it but must also put your creative hat on.
David Neeleman, for instance, came up with the concept of e-tickets because he frequently misplaced his airplane tickets each time he flew. By creating a system that didn’t involve paper tickets, he overcame his personal inability. In the process, he also helped people who may have had the same issue.
It’s important to play to your strengths. As we mentioned before, ADHD boosts your people skills and creativity. If you put that to good use within a classroom, you’ll find that a long and successful teaching career comes quite naturally.
Should You Let Your Students Know About Your ADHD?
Telling your students about your ADHD is a personal decision. While it might open the door to an excellent conversation on mental health, you might also invite the scorn of critical students (or their parents).
Your classroom is a space that consists of individuals. Although small (if you teach primary school kids), your students have minds and musings of their own. When you take the time and put in the effort to explain to the kids about your condition, they see where you’re coming from and all the struggles you put up with on a daily basis.
Make sure you don’t make it a sob story and also do not expect anything in return. You can express what you go through one-to-one or address the entire class at once. But do not enter the conversation hoping that your otherwise rambunctious students will turn disciplined and obedient all of a sudden after your admission.
The goal should be to educate and enlighten your pupils. Your open admission may, in fact, prompt students who have ADHD of their own to become more vocal. And there’s a good chance that your classroom might have a few students with ADHD.
When these kids with ADHD hear your story, they may come to see you as an inspiration and role model. Over time, they are less likely to use ADHD as an excuse for not doing things they can do. Also, you could help students with ADHD learn and inculcate certain coping mechanisms that have helped you in your journey.
Probably, the biggest takeaway of it all will be ADHD would no longer seem like a “disease” or an impediment to anything to the little ones with the condition.
Are There Drawbacks to Letting Students Know You Have ADHD?
There certainly are positives attached to letting your students in on your ADHD. However, there are some drawbacks to the exercise as well, which may make you think twice before going public.
First, the kids probably wouldn’t have noticed your ADHD before you admitted to having the problem. This is especially true if your medications or other coping techniques were doing a good job of mitigating your symptoms. Once you admit it, however, some students may no longer be able to unsee it. Your inability to remain still or talk at a slow rate of speed would now garner more attention than before.
Regardless of whether you make the disclosure or not, your initial few years as a teacher with ADHD will likely be quite tough. You must be prepared for that, and your goal should be to stick through it until the job becomes natural.
ADHD is not a life-breaking condition – not even close. As with many other health conditions, you can lead a happy life in and outside your school when you learn more about ADHD and how to manage it. Getting proper diagnosis and medications, if needed, are a must. As mentioned before, the support you get from your school has a major say in whether you succeed in your teaching career or not.
If the course is heavily scripted or rigid, and you cannot afford to deviate from the curriculum, teaching can become quite painful. But if your school management understands you need those occasional deviations to reboot, then things become much easier.
Here’s the takeaway: you can absolutely become a teacher if you have ADHD. Many people have done it and continue to do it successfully. If you’re willing to embrace your limitations and work to mitigate their effects on the classroom setting, becoming a teacher is absolutely possible.
- Society for Education & Training: How I Manage My ADHD As A Teacher
- We Are Teachers: I’m a Teacher With ADHD and Here’s How I Make It Work
- Nancy Carroll: A Teacher With ADHD?
- Additude: ADHD at Work: Time Wasters and Productivity Killers
- Scientific American: Are People with ADHD More Creative?
- CHADD: Asking for Workplace Accommodations
- Reddit: Teachers with ADHD?
- WebMD: Things People With ADHD Wish You Knew
- Psychology Today: ADHD Adults: “What It Feels Like to Have ADHD”