There’s a new study out suggesting that children with ADHD are less academically engaged, and that the difference is partly down to student-teacher conflict. In other words, troubled student-teacher relationships aren’t the only reason students with ADHD are less engaged with school, but they seem to be a factor.
For people with ADHD, it won’t necessarily come as a surprise that ADHD symptoms can cause difficulties in how students and teachers work together.
As someone with ADHD who has been on both sides of the student-teacher equation, let me start by acknowledging that students with ADHD often are harder to teach. Inattention, poor impulse control and hyperactivity can interfere with the learning process, and it’s not always clear how to address these problems in a classroom setting.
With that said, it’s also extremely frustrating for students when teachers misinterpret ADHD symptoms. Many ADHDers can probably recall examples of their ADHD symptoms being seen as “not trying hard,” or being incapable of learning, or willfully trying to disrupt the learning process.
Then there’s the fact that conventional teaching methods often aren’t suited to the way the ADHD brain works. Lectures are not a good way of conveying information to someone who struggles with sustaining attention. Many grading systems disproportionately penalize people who understand the underlying concepts but are prone to making inattentive mistakes.
Put all that together, and you can see how resentment might build between students with ADHD and their teachers. Students feel misunderstood and disconnected from their learning environment while teachers grow frustrated and don’t know how to reach these students when their usual teaching methods don’t work.
That’s why for someone with ADHD, a teacher who believes in you, or who uses techniques that do fit with your preferred ways of learning, can make a huge difference. Although misunderstandings between students with ADHD and their teachers are common, they don’t have to be the norm. Teachers who are able to engage students with ADHD can have a huge impact.
While individual teachers can make a difference, the question of how to support students with ADHD is ultimately one that has to be addressed at a higher level. We need to have programs in place to more effectively educate teachers about ADHD symptoms, which will help prevent misunderstandings. And we also need schools to experiment with a wider variety of learning methods and ways of building flexible classrooms.
Many ADHDers can probably relate to the finding that children with ADHD are less engaged in school and have worse relationships with their teachers. But we don’t have to accept that finding as inevitable, and looking at the way our schools work has the potential to move things in the right direction.