ADHD can have its ups and downs, and many of those revolve around school life. My high school experience set me up for success. Here are eleven ways my teachers helped me!
1. They Worked With My 504/IEP Accommodations
This is a classic and key component of ADHD success. My teachers worked with my existing accommodations, including notetakers, extended time on tests, a quiet space to test, taking tests after school, fidgeting during class, and listening to music during study or writing time so I wouldn’t get distracted. I worked with the school to see what base accommodations would be helpful for my specific situation.
Unfortunately, this is where things stop for many students. There are only so many things accommodations can do without specific help from teachers and guardians! Mine went above and beyond to keep me motivated and hopeful, and I worked to honor that. Keep reading to learn how.
2. They Had Me Meet With a Faculty Mentor Regularly
In my case, the faculty mentor was either a school counselor or the principal. We’d talk about how my school experience was going, they’d talk about my career goals, and they’d ask if I was honoring my side of things by attending class, doing my work, and studying. If I wasn’t, they’d talk about how I could change that and what I needed to adjust.
This wasn’t always an easy experience, and that was a good thing! I had a safe space to admit I’d been slacking off or not taking advantage of the help offered, and I’d get a push to move forward and work harder. My faculty mentor was invested in my success, and I knew they had my back if I struggled with a teacher or a situation.
3. My Assigned Seat Was in The Corner of the Classroom
This was a simple and surprisingly helpful change! I found that I was easily distracted by sounds and movement around me, so my teachers made sure I was always in a corner seat. Generally, that seat was in the front row.
After this small change, I found that I paid more attention in class, was able to hear more clearly, got more done, did better on tests and in-class assignments, and was less stressed overall. If the classroom didn’t have a good space for a corner seat, like if the seats were in a circle, I did best when I was near the teacher or in a corner of the room that people didn’t pass often.
Problems arose when teachers didn’t think this was necessary, or when they forgot when making their assignment sheet. I’d do my best to pay attention, but it was definitely more challenging and took some of the energy that I needed for class.
4. They Let Me Take Some Classes Online or Through Packets
Most states have online public or private high schools available, and these schools often allow students to take just one or two classes from them. Most states also have a packet program available for required classes. While the packets are generally for students who fail so they can make up the classes, they can be an alternative.
It was pretty clear to me that I was going to study the humanities and not the sciences, but those classes are still required for all US students. There were other classes that were so boring I struggled to pay attention since I’d already studied the subjects during a hyperfixation period. As a result, I found myself failing basic classes because I couldn’t do the homework!
As many people with ADHD know, this wasn’t because I was “lazy” or “needed to try harder.” My brain was rejecting the stress and boredom so hard that I was making myself anxious and physically sick. What can a student and school in this situation do?
My school allowed me to take English 11, American Government, Biology, and a few other classes either online or in packets. I could finish the packets in a week or two, and I could do the online classes on my own in my “library period” at school. I blazed through four classes that had nearly failed me when taken in person! Even better, I ended up with a few A grades to pad my GPA.
5. They Made Sure I Had Arts and Dance Classes Every Semester
Having a ceramics, dance, drawing, or other art class every semester was vital for my success as a student with ADHD, even though I’m not an art major in college. It helped me balance my sensory needs so I fidgeted less, it was a reward for making it to school on time or staying the whole day, and the classes are enough of an easy A that it gave me a badly needed win.
As a bonus, many teachers in the arts have ADHD themselves. My teachers gave me empathy that motivated me to do better in other classes, and at one point an art teacher volunteered their classroom as a safe space if I needed to walk out of another class for any reason.
The more I participated in art or dance, the better I did in my non-art classes. This has been true for many of my friends with ADHD as well. We need that healthy mental and physical stimulation, and we need a win!
6. They Gave Me a Library Period for Homework
The original purpose of the library period was for homework, but it turned into something even more productive. I love reading, and I love chatting! The school librarian encouraged me and let me talk about assignments as I worked, and suggested books for me when I finished homework early. I ended up doing my packets and online classes in the library with the same success rate.
Working with ADHD means finding ways to motivate yourself and trick your brain into helping you. There were many occasions that I used the library period to talk to a teacher, get help on an assignment, do research, or get the wiggles out so I could focus on a test later. If I was feeling distracted, the librarian would motivate me by dropping a book on my desk that I could read when I was done with an assignment.
7. They Reduced Homework Appropriately
Homework can be overwhelming and depressing for any student, but it is too often a deal-breaker for a student with ADHD. Faced down with fifty math problems, two essays, and a worksheet, my brain would just roll over and play dead. It didn’t matter if I knew the answer.
The first teacher to turn this system around for me was a math and engineering teacher who would not accept failure as an option. She felt that the purpose of homework was to practice a subject that wasn’t understood, and she assigned it accordingly. If I could show her that I understood, I only needed to do three math problems.
She kept things realistic by requiring me to do the full assignment if I didn’t have a good grasp on it, but she also encouraged all students to spend lunch or an hour after class working with her if they needed help. I took her up on those offers and ended up with 100% in the hardest math class of my life, and a lifelong respect for teachers.
The same veteran teacher encouraged my parents to put me in art classes since she’d seen it help others in my situation.
8. I Had a Hall Pass Whenever I Needed it
This was incredibly helpful, but also completely based on trust. If I walked out of a class because I needed to move around, my teachers knew I’d be back as soon as possible.
This reduced my anxiety and overall stress level more than I can describe. Sometimes ADHD means you just need to wiggle! Since I could walk out when I needed it, I wasn’t overthinking or distracted by trying to figure out the consequences of asking. I actually left class less often than I did before this arrangement.
9. They Let Me Eat Lunch in Their Classrooms if I Needed to Study
This isn’t an option for every teacher, since many of them need time to themselves and that is already in short supply, but this arrangement did help me through school. I’d spend a day in the French teacher’s classroom, a day in the English teacher’s classroom, and the rest of the week in math or science.
For most of my teachers, this wasn’t a time for one-on-one help. Both of us needed to eat lunch and prepare for the rest of the day. The biggest benefit of taking lunch in their classrooms was that it gave me a quiet space to study, I recalled more information because of my environment, and I could ask the occasional question for clarification. When your brain is in seven different places as an assignment is explained, it helps to have things clarified from time to time.
If I could go back and talk to my High School self, I’d take this offer more often. Besides the study space, eating lunch in a quiet area kept me more stable and present in my next classes. This didn’t matter as much for dance, but it was a big deal when my next class was language or math.
10. They Kept in Contact With My Parents
As much as I absolutely hated this in high school, it was a vital part of my positive experience. My teachers would always respond to my mom’s emails and they made time to meet with her at every parent-teacher conference.
This helped my mom and my teachers stay on the same page. If I missed an assignment, they both knew whether I was making it up or skipping it. If they were slow on grading, I wouldn’t get grounded for missing an assignment. If I did an assignment and it got lost, I had a witness and could get some help or mercy.
Honestly, I did have a few teachers that I couldn’t work with. Sometimes it was because our personalities were so different that I just couldn’t learn well from them, which is a problem I’ve run into in university and nobody’s fault. Other times it was because they thought a student with an IEP or 504 shouldn’t be in their class. When this happened, keeping in contact gave me a paper trail to save my grade.
The most positive experience I had was when a teacher, who originated a lot of these ideas, sat my mom down and told her to let me take arts and humanities classes instead of math and engineering. Even though I was getting A’s in her classes, she recognized that I was spending precious energy on something I wouldn’t need in the future.
I will be grateful for this teacher, her help, and her patience for the rest of my life.
11. They Had Me Take the ACT Multiple Times
I was honestly shocked when I found out how few people took this opportunity. Yes, I hated every second of taking the ACT, but planning on taking it multiple times took the pressure off! I took it once to see what it was like, a second time to get used to it, and a third time just to see if I could get a higher score.
I ended up getting the best score the first time because I was relaxed enough to focus. With ADHD, every drop of focus counts. I have no regrets about retaking the test since I was able to keep it as relaxed! My score was good enough to land a full scholarship at a small college when combined with my GPA, and I didn’t experience the panic that so many of my friends did.
My incredibly positive high school experience was made possible by flexible, compassionate, hard-working teachers and mentors who wanted to help me succeed. It was a great example of creating room to grow without coddling a student. If anything on this list sounds like it could make school better for yourself or your students, try it! Share it! Think outside the box! Great things happen when you try.