So my first-period students are handing in their essays, and one doesn’t have hers. Only she doesn’t say that; she speaks the words I dread most. “Did you get my dad’s e-mail?”
I didn’t, because her dad e-mailed me around midnight the day before. I log on after class and it’s seven or eight paragraphs, articulately detailing his daughter’s new diagnosis of ADHD. She didn’t finish the paper because she left part of it at school, and she tried to restart it at home but ran out of steam and worked herself into a frenzy. He finally told her to go to bed and he would talk to me about it.
I don’t even think about writing back. I pick up the phone and call him at work.
The thing about parents is that most of the time, they just want to talk. I hardly said a word during what turned out to be a 20-minute conversation. When I did speak, I affirmed his feelings: I, too, want his daughter to be successful in spite of her disability. I agreed that there was nothing wrong with his daughter, and mentioned that girls often receive a later diagnosis than boys because they tend to lack the hyperactivity that’s a telltale sign of the condition. I pointed to the online syllabi that spelled out every single assignment for the quarter. I explained that late work would receive a 10% penalty each day unless the student had requested an extension before the due date.
And then I told him that, just this once, I would accept the paper late with no penalty. Because I could already see that his daughter was a special person, one who wanted to do the right thing and needed some extra help to be able to do so. I offered to meet with her during lunch one day to discuss how I could help her best. I didn’t rush him off the phone, even when the late bell informed me my class was waiting.
This is what happens when teachers are educated: last year, I would have rolled my eyes at what I viewed as indulgence and coddling. Now I know something now about ADHD and the stigma that comes with it, about the struggles families have to keep their kids afloat with a diagnosis they don’t fully understand.
Yes, school’s been underway for less than two weeks. But even so, this is an extraordinary amount of patience for me, the world’s biggest blowhard. I suppose it comes from understanding the father’s point of view: he loves his daughter and wants her to succeed. That means that sometimes he doesn’t know when to stop talking. Other times, as Ron Clark pointed out yesterday, it may lead to uglier actions, more offensive words, barriers that are hard to break down. But last week, it was harmless. My class was glad for the two extra minutes of study time. They had a quiz to take.