Dear Algebra Teacher.
Dear Algebra Teacher,
Dylan and I had a long talk last night about algebra. We talked about getting him a tutor, and how he had to spend his birthday lunch retaking an algebra test. He was in tears – but not because he had to spend his birthday doing algebra.
He said some things that really concern me. I think the biggest concern is that he believes that you don’t think he’s trying – and he’s starting to believe that HE is a failure because he can’t succeed in algebra.
You haven’t known Dylan for very long, and you saw him at the beginning of the year on medication and relatively able to keep up with the class. When he started trying new medication, though, his ADHD symptoms flared up with a vengeance. Having watched him since he was born, I can tell you that he has a very real, very classic case of ADHD. His processing speed is in the 9th percentile, meaning that when he hears something, it takes an incredible amount of time for what he hears to become actual information in his brain.
So when Dylan is in class, even if it doesn’t look like he’s paying attention, he is struggling with every fiber of his being to pay attention. Sometimes he looks completely spaced out – which is when he is most overwhelmed with trying to process. Because of the processing speed issue, he can’t digest information fast enough – which means he is likely getting only about a third of the information that is being transmitted.
Dylan is incredibly bright, and his sheer intelligence has pulled him through for years. But I can promise you that when he looks as though he’s not trying, his brain is working overtime, desperately trying to focus.
When he raises his hand and asks a question, he is trying with all his might to understand. It can be very frustrating, as a parent and as a teacher, to say something three times and have Dylan STILL respond with “What did you say?” But I can promise you that he IS trying, he IS doing his absolute best and he IS still failing.
So when you say to him, “This is easy!” or “You should be paying closer attention!” – the only thing he hears is, You are a failure because you don’t understand this. His self-esteem is plummeting every, single day that he hears comments like this from his teachers. He has ADHD. He CAN’T do any better. But he is really, really trying.
We are all trying. And I know it’s frustrating. He spent more than two hours on his math homework last night, having no idea what he was doing and giving it everything he had. And because he is how he is, he may not even turn in his math today. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to do better. It doesn’t mean that he’s a rebellious teenager. It means he has ADHD.
Please know that some of your words, and the way you are treating him, are sincerely and deeply hurting him. He’s giving it all he’s got, even if he’s failing. That doesn’t mean he’s a failure in life, or that he doesn’t want to do better. It means he has a learning disability and he needs support and encouragement and positive reinforcement when he does something right.
It took me years of dealing with Dylan to learn this – and lots of outside help, too. And it is HARD to encourage someone who has so much potential and doesn’t seem able to do such simple things. But please, in the coming months, please try not to be so hard on him. We will keep working with him, together, and maybe he will come out of this better and stronger – regardless of his grades. Thanks much,