How to Deal With an ADHD Student?, Part II

So here are the methods I put into practice with Javier, my ADHD student:

1) Since Javier was used to being ridiculed by both teachers and students, I needed to make sure his energy was channeled in a way that would make the kids respect him and would lead him out of the role of a class clown that he was used to assuming in order to have a place in the class hierarchy. A kid at this age needs a well-defined role s/he plays with his or her peers. If no positive role is available or accessible, the kid will choose a negative one. This is why it is often easier for kids to play the part of a class clown than to have no well-defined role at all.

I told Javier that I would teach him the Russian alphabet and he would be able to write all the other kids’ names in Russian by the end of the course. So whenever I assigned group work in class and Javier would whiz through the assignment and start getting restless, I’d teach him Russian letters. He was a very smart kid and an extra challenge was helpful to him in channeling his energy productively.

2) When you talk to an ADHD kid, it’s a good idea to start talking at the same pitch and with the same speed as he or she does and then gradually start lowering your voice and speaking slowly. This will help the student to lower his or her voice and start speaking more slowly a lot better than barking at them to slow down.

3) School-age kids cannot be expected to sit still for hours and keep their attention focused. Some students can do that but, more often than not, the practice of putting them behind desks and telling them to sit there in silence as you pontificate for hours is a very bad idea. In my course, I made a point of including as many opportunities to walk, run around, move all over the classroom as possible. For the ADHD student, this was an opportunity to expend some of his energy in a way that didn’t make him stand out from the crowd.

4) There are teachers who try to gain cheap popularity with students by singling out one kid and badgering him or her. This strategy always makes students despise this kind of teacher because this desperate struggle for acceptance looks pathetic and weak. And kids can smell weakness from ten miles away.

My strategy in dealing with attempts to recruit me into the “let’s-dump-on-ADHD-kid” camp always backfired for the students who tried this on me.

“So, what did you think about Javier?” a student asked before our second meeting.

“Great student!” I responded. “Truly brilliant.”

The kids were puzzled.

“All of the teachers hate him,” one of them tried to explain. “Because of his ADHD, you know.”

I looked at this student as if he were being very weird.

“You must be confused,” I said. “This just makes no sense.” Believe me, I can say this sentence in a way that prevents people from wanting to continue with their line of reasoning.

Whenever Javier would act out in class, students would look at me, eager to see how I would react. I always behaved like everything Javier did was completely normal. If anybody giggled, I stared at them like they were the ones behaving in a hopelessly eccentric way.

Nothing works instantly in pedagogy. Education is always a process. The attitudes of students towards Javier and Javier’s own behavior in class changed very slowly, in tiny little steps. But they did. I think he felt a lot more accepted and integrated by the end of the course.


How to Deal With an ADHD Student?, Part I

I haven’t had a chance to teach in a US high school but I have taught high school students. There was a program at my penultimate university where college educators would offer extracurricular courses to high-school children from at-risk families for free. My year-long course in Spanish literature was aimed at kids from immigrant Hispanic families. I had 24 students ranging in age from 13 to 17.

Several of the students had a history of arrests and gang affiliations. I’m fascinated with the pedagogy of juvenile delinquency, so this was a great opportunity for me to put all the theoretical knowledge I had accumulated on the subject into practice. I blogged about that in the past, so I won’t repeat myself.

Today, I want to discuss how I approached the teaching of a student with ADHD I had in that class whom I will call Javier for the purposes of this post.

Even before I met Javier for the first time, students let me know certain things about him. When I first arrived in class, those kids who were already there, started giggling and saying, “Javier isn’t here yet but I heard he was taking this class. Oh, you will be so sorry you agreed to have him here.”

“He is hyperactive,” one student announced. “All of the teachers hate him.”

“Oh he’s such a loser,” another kid contributed. “Just totally out of control.”

“And a maricon,” somebody else said.

This is how I knew that a) Javier had ADHD; b) he was being bullied by both teachers and students; and c) he was gay, which in a poor Hispanic community is not an easy thing to be. (Javier came out in his graduating year and was viciously persecuted by a classmate as a result. But all that came 2 years after our course.)

Few things enrage me as much as bullying does, so I knew from the start that my goal would be to defend Javier from bullying in a way that wouldn’t make things even harder for him. This means, of course, that giving the students speeches of the “Children, Javier has a disorder. You should be kind and tolerant towards him” variety was out of the question.

(To be continued. . . )

The Self-Esteem Movement

One of my favorite bloggers writes:

The whole self-esteem movement in schools has pretty much removed failure as an option for kids and competition has ceased to have any real meaning.

I have seen such statements on other blogs in the past but, since I’m not very familiar with the high school system in the US, I’m not sure what the “self-esteem movement in schools” is about. Can anybody explain? Has anybody seen it in practice?

Because this sounds like something I might want to denounce. 🙂


Freedom of Speech

Your freedom of speech consists not in being able to come to other people’s blogs and say any kind of rubbish you want without being kicked out, but in being able to open a blog of your own and enjoy the freedom to say whatever you please there.

Seriously, is this so hard to understand?

Creepy or Romantic?

I just told N. a story from my past and it turns out that our reaction to it is completely different. So I decided to post it here and let my readers tell me what they think.

Many years ago, when I lived in New Haven, CT, I once came home and discovered an unknown gentleman waiting for me in front of the door to my building.

“Hi,” the gentleman said. “I live in the building opposite yours and my windows face the windows of your apartment. I’ve been watching you for a while and I really like you.”

“OK,” I said and proceeded to enter my building.

“So would you like to go out with me?” the gentleman inquired.

“No!” I responded and slammed the door behind me.

Now, N. thinks that I was wrong in considering the guy weird and creepy.

What do you, dear readers, think? Was my neighbor being stalky or romantic?

Healthcare and Education

I think that there are two central, basic, extremely important services that any society should offer to all of its citizens for free in order to consider itself civilized: medical care and education. The rest can be debated, discussed and disagreed upon. These two things, however, are two important to deny to people on a monetary basis. The question every civilized society needs to ask itself is: can we offer these two important things to all of us for free? And if not, what do we need to do in order to make it happen? After this goal is reached, we can proceed to concentrate on other issues.

At this point, however, we have been led to believe that we don’t have money for either of these things and that cuts need to be made to one of them to salvage some remnants of the other. And that’s just wrong.

Look at what’s happening in California, for example:

The Regents of the University of California are meeting to discuss a multiyear funding proposal that will increase tuition by a cumulative 81% in the next four years, if the state does not increase funding. As a point of reference, UC tuition has already gone up 330% since the year 2000. And as Bob Samuels points out, if past experience is any guide, it’s much more likely that the state will actually decrease public funding in the next four years, and that tuition will rise even higher and faster than that.

In short, while UC students paid around $4,000 a year in tuition in 2000, their successors will pay over $22,000 a year in 2015.

Just multiply 22,000 by four and you will see who is going to be able to afford higher education in this country.

All these people who don’t believe that healthcare and education should be free for all, who are they and how do they justify this to themselves? They’ve got to be telling themselves something to explain how all of this is right. So what is it? What’s going on in their very very empty heads, I wonder.