If you’ve gone through school with ADHD, you can probably think of some frustrating classes you had and some teachers who weren’t sympathetic. If you’re lucky, you can also think of a teacher or two who stood out. They inspired you and encouraged you in a way that most other teachers didn’t.
For people with ADHD, having that kind of teacher can make a big difference. So what traits set an ADHD-friendly teacher apart? Here are five of them.
1. Giving students room to learn in their own ways
People don’t learn things the same way. Some people prefer to get new information by reading, others by listening, and others by watching videos. Some people need to understand the details of something before they apply it, others have to learn through hands-on experimentation and trial-and-error.
This diversity in how people learn is especially obvious in people with ADHD and learning disabilities generally. Many people with ADHD have particular ways they need to learn things, and they don’t do well when they try to learn the way most people do.
ADHD-friendly teachers recognize that different students learn differently. They might use teaching strategies like providing students opportunities to learn across different mediums (reading, listening, etc.), making classes more interactive, and allowing students to choose different ways of practicing the material.
More intangibly, but perhaps most importantly, these teachers approach their job with an openness to the reality that there’s no such thing as one-style-fits-all learning.
2. Recognizing students’ unique strengths
For students, there’s nothing more motivating than to find an area where you’re in your element and to have a teacher who recognizes that strength. And for students with ADHD, the most inspiring teacher is often the one who acknowledges your unique strengths rather than just seeing you as lazy, underachieving or disorganized.
This relates to the previous point because teachers who recognize their students’ diverse strengths are often teachers who embrace the fact that different students learn differently. These teachers have a range of class materials that allow students to experience a variety of activities and ways of thinking, and to develop their skills in the areas that “click” for them.
As a teacher, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that there’s one type of good student: the detail-oriented, consistent, academically ambitious, naturally engaged, outgoing student – in other words, the one who’s easiest to teach. What really makes the world interesting, though, is not having an army of these perfectly conscientious people but having a diverse range of people who bring different strengths to the table.
3. Valuing creativity
This is a specific example of the last point. Creativity is a skill that sometimes gets overlooked in the classroom because it’s hard to teach and even harder to grade. Easier just to evaluate students on their consistency, which is essentially what assigning them GPAs does.
But creativity is a type of thinking that makes our society function. It’s also one where many people with ADHD excel. Often, someone with ADHD is at their best intensively engaged in a creative project they’re passionate about. Hence why ADHD-friendly teachers tend to be ones who value creativity, insight and inspiration, not just rote learning.
4. Not penalizing students with ADHD for their symptoms
When I phrase it like that, this one sounds obvious, but students with ADHD do get penalized for their symptoms all the time.
For example, organizational skills are an area that is specifically affected by ADHD. Of course, it’s good to support students in developing organizational skills, but if you’re grading students on their organizational skills specifically, you’re wading into dangerous territory. Surely, organizational skills are a means, not an end, right?
Hyperactivity is another example. Please don’t reprimand students with ADHD for fidgeting. As I’ve talked about before, this is often a sign that they’re engaged, not the other way around. An ADHD-friendly teacher will recognize that it’s not a bad thing for students to expend some of their restless energy.
Then there’s inattentive mistakes. This one’s tricky because if a student makes a “careless” mistake and does something wrong on an exam, for example, you can’t necessarily just give them a perfect score. But you can design your exams and your grading policy in a way that emphasizes conceptual understanding so that when students do make inattentive mistakes the damage is relatively minor – which is what ADHD-friendly teachers do.
Teaching is a job, but it’s not just a job. It’s easy to spot the difference between a teacher who’s just getting through another day and waiting to clock out versus one who really cares.
Teachers in the latter category are engaged in the process of being effective teachers. They experiment with different teaching practices, and they’ll often have found their own unique way of doing things that isn’t just lecturing until the bell rings. They’re invested in whether their students are learning, and their students can sense this. Ultimately, these are the teachers who are most inspiring for all students, including those with ADHD.
No doubt there are other traits that ADHD-friendly teachers have. If you can think of some I missed, please add them below!