Sunday, September 15, 2013

The ADD Teacher

It’s the third day of school and I can’t find my lunch count paper and money envelope.  The kids keep coming up and asking me, as several have cash for lunch, and I haven’t a clue. I can’t remember if I picked it up from my mailbox that morning, or the afternoon before.

Fortunately, I have a one-on-one staff assistant this year for a student in a wheel chair with muscular dystrophy.  I ask her to please run to the office to check my mailbox.  She returns empty handed, telling me she checked the other boxes nearby, the staff table, and the women’s restroom, all for naught.

I keep a smile on my face, and shuffle through my desk drawer for an envelope to put the kids money in.  Then I write their name, lunch number and amount of money on a post it, along with the lunch count and my name and room number.  I smirk a bit when I notice my coffee mug;  “Keep Calm and Carry On” emblazoned across the front.

A few minutes later, the kitchen lady calls my room and says she doesn’t know who brought money.  It seems the post it fell off.  The kids and I recreate the needed information.  Once again, we carry on.  The next morning, I stop by the kitchen and humbly ask for a replacement lunch sheet and envelope.  I had thought perhaps I had picked them up inadvertently and left them with a stack of correcting at home.  I had not.
Of course, several days later I did find the missing materials, under a stack of “Read All About Me” posters on the counter.  I now have a spare set, which I will surely use.

The morning progresses, with my usual hunt for my favorite purple dry erase marker, or my cute new owl pointer, and the never-ending search for the clipboard with my planning notes. It’s a typical day in Room 111.

Later, I’ll be frantically tossing papers off my desk, trying to find the science folio that I was reading while eating my salad at lunch.  I give up; open the connecting door between my room and Angie’s, telling her I can’t find it. She offers hers, which I gratefully grab as I’m opening my door for the kids to come in. This year we’ve extended the lunch recess, and given up the late afternoon one.  Great idea in theory, but in reality tough, as there is no break between literacy and science, so I need to be prepared for both before the kids return from lunch recess.

I shouldn’t really need the teacher notes, as I’ve been teaching this same exact science unit for a decade!  I know it, or should know it, by heart.  But, a funny thing happens on the way through my lessons.  I forget chunks, or fairly important vocabulary words, or leave out part of the directions.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve taught it so much that I just forget I haven’t already said what I need to say (this year!), or if it’s the ADD running amok within.

The day before I had merrily taken the kids on a jaunt around the building, with notebooks and pencils in hand.  We were busily counting our footsteps, along each wall, and we were going to create a “birds eye view” map of the building. We’re all having a grand ole time, despite the 95-degree temp.  We return to the classroom, and I model for them how to draw out the building, and never once get back to the averaging lesson I had planned on, using their group data to determine approximate distance for each wall.  I also neglected to discuss and post the new vocabulary: model, grid lines, boundary, map, and cartographer.  There’s always tomorrow.

Suddenly, the patrol kids are getting ready to go, so we stop for planners, then the kinder helpers get ready to go, and the rest of us get ready to go and play silent ball. Day over!

Nobody tries harder than I do to stay organized. I am the Queen Bee of organizational tools.  I have labeled file drawers, labeled cubbies.  I label the supply drawers.  I have files and file holders and labels up the kazoo . . . and I can’t find a darn thing. I paid my daughter to come in last spring and completely reorganize my four-drawer file cabinet.  She did a beautiful job, and all files are in alphabetical order: algebra, area, decimals, division and so on.  She consolidated all multiple folders into one, (I think she found four or five labeled algebra) and I love it.

The problems arise when I remove a file, or a few papers from a file. They get lost, buried beneath the scads of papers that pass through my fingertips each day. I have a file box labeled with the days of the week, presumably so that I can file the papers I will need for any given day.  This would be fabulous if, one, I actually put the papers in the correct file, or two, if I remember that I did put the papers in the correct file folder! Many days I’m looking for a set of papers, that I had seen moments earlier, but forget that I put them in the file (and never once look there until I am filing the next week’s papers!)

When my dear friend Deb was my teaching pal, she always kept the important papers.  She kept an accurate calendar, knew when to order what, and the 5th grade team was a smooth running machine.  When she moved to another school, she passed all her files on to me.  Yep, it was scary.

For a couple years, I was the only consistent member of the team, as my teammates kept changing grade level positions. I was in charge. Yikes!
I managed to hold it together, and get things ordered in a timely manner, for the most part. I was good about passing materials on to my teammates, but it was a running joke whether I could keep track of my own.  I was often borrowing back one copy so I could go run a copy for myself until I ran across the curiously hidden copies of my own.  Just so you know, I nearly always find my papers eventually.  I draw the line at wasting paper on making new ones (unless they’re really important.)
You’d think that, as a teacher, I would recognize ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in myself.  Lord knows I’ve had plenty of students who are “attention challenged”. Yet, it wasn’t until one of my daughters was diagnosed while in high school that I realized I was, too.  After going over the checklist of behaviors for her, it was sobering to discover there were very few I didn’t exhibit.  I just always thought I was scatterbrained.  (Which I am, but, there’s a diagnosis for that now!) Whew!
Several years ago, while chatting with my then principal, I mentioned it.  She looked at me and said, “It must be very hard for you!” It is, no question about it.  It’s hard keeping track, and it’s even harder to stay on track.  But, I’m a good teacher, and maybe, the ADD kind of works in my favor.  I totally “get” the kids who share my challenges.  I can laugh with them.  I hopefully help them with organization.  My kids grow and improve and test scores demonstrate success. My students love me as much as I love them.  They continue to come back to visit, volunteer in my classroom when in high school, and invite me to their graduation parties. 
The current kids help me, too. They become pros at keeping track of my teaching stuff.  It’s way better losing my clipboard at school, as one of the kids can spot it in a matter of seconds.  At home, it’s a totally different story.  I can lose stuff for years.  (Well, I can do that at school too.  I still can’t find my favorite red timer that I lost last April!) It’s a mystery.
This may, or may not, be my last year teaching.  I would imagine that any job is hard if you’re ADD, but I find it incredibly frustrating.  I waste a lot of time, searching, shuffling through stacks of papers, and sadly, re-creating. It is a daunting task to attempt to keep up, and I fail miserably on a daily basis. Across the room as I write, there is a rolling cart stuffed with papers that I brought home on Friday to sort through and organize.  I’m exhausted just thinking about that task. Yet, it true and typical ADD fashion, I’ve completely gotten sidetracked and written this blog post instead of doing my homework!

This weekend I have to prepare files for three students who will be leaving my class on Wednesday.  Emotionally, that’s hard.  I’ve known since the first day of school (nearly two weeks ago) that we were overloaded, but the shift wasn’t decided on until Friday.  Sitting in the conference room with the principal and the other 4th and 5th grade teachers, trying to determine who would be a good “fit” for the newly created 4/5 split, was hard. 
The general public often doesn’t understand the teacher heart.  We miraculously love those kids the moment we meet them.  They may try our patience, exasperate us, and confound us.  But nothing stops us from that unconditional love that seeps into our heart once a child is placed in our classroom. When they leave, either willingly or unwillingly, a piece of our heart goes with them. This may be truer for elementary teachers than middle or high school, but I think all teachers feel the tug.
That’s another post . . .