When I was growing up, staying on task was very difficult for me. It seemed that every time I would start a chore, or clean my room, something always pulled me away. Whether it was the birds chirping, or glancing out the window at the puffy white cumulus clouds floating by; something always stole my good intentions away.
I remember hearing my mother’s voice questioning me why it was taking so long to finish what I had started. I didn’t really have an answer for her. My reply was, ” I don’t know.” Even when I was reading a good book, something always pulled me away and I would find myself rereading the same page more than once or twice.
My mother used to call me a daydreamer so did my teachers in school. However, although, I would stray during classes, and take forever to complete homework, tests, and classwork, I managed to graduate high school with very good grades. I will admit, it was a tiring time not only for me but for my parents.
When I decided to go to college at the age of thirty-eight, I found myself a tad better at paying attention. One thing that worked for me was creating stories to correspond with the lesson. Using my professor as the main character, I used my notes, new vocabulary, and reading material to develop a story that I could relate to, even if it was silly, or did not make sense to anyone reading it; it made perfect sense to me.
The proof was in the pudding when I took my first test and every test after that: good grades, grades I was proud of, grades that gave me confidence, grades that allowed my hesitant hand, to reach up and wait enthusiastically to be called on.
Thinking back, those silly stories not only helped me to earn good grades but helped me to attend for longer periods of time without wondering what was going on outside the window. It was important to me to hear as much as I could to build my story. I did that for every class, even the yoga class that I was required to take.
Soon it was graduation day. My husband and grown children were in attendance as I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from East Stroudsburg University. I had earned my Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education. Thinking back, those short stories were a blessing that helped me to pay attention and gain confidence and determination. They helped me to relax and enjoy my classes. But most of all my stories helped me to graduate with honors.
Little did I know the adventure my degree would bring and the children I would meet. I was forty-two when I started my career in special education. My first class was small but challenging. I remember reading their educational plans and thinking that I had a lot in common with many of my students.
I remembered how I struggled to stay on task as an elementary student. I remembered how long it took me to finish my homework, and how frustrated and different I felt.
I also remembered feeling lonely in a very large class with too many distractions to be fully engaged, and teachers who did their best but were not trained to help those that were daydreamers.
Before my new students entered my classroom on the first day of school, I made a quiet promise to provide a positive environment for my daydreamers. An environment where they would be accepted and encouraged every day.
Along with the recommendations in their educational plan, timers became an important part of our daily lessons. Timers that allowed children a time to work and time for dreaming, whether it was to look out the window, or listen to music.
Whatever they needed to help to improve their time on task, I tried. Each day, I would set the timer a minute or two longer, with built-in breaks. I praised them for good work, and encouraged them to keep going! Did they daydream at some point? Of course, every day; some days more than others.
However, being in a small class setting, use of a timer, and built-in opportunities to move around, working with them to develop better organizational skills, reinforcing positive behavior and not accepting the inappropriate behavior, gave the off-task child room to make good choices and complete the task in a reasonable time. In many cases, I saw a nice improvement. It was not easy, but it was so worth the effort. It was also important to me that each child understood that each day was a new day. A fresh start on learning how to stay on task. I needed to hear that too.
My first year as a second-grade special education teacher brought me much joy but also gave me a better picture of myself. Each year, I grew as a teacher, but always struggled and still do with organizational skills. However, I am much better now. Staying on task is not as frustrating or stressful as it once was. I now can spend more time reading, writing, and getting things done without daydreaming. As in my classroom, I have built-in time to listen to the birds and just dream about anything that comes into my head.
Seven years ago, I retired from teaching but often think about my years in the classroom and my daydreamers. Although I was never officially diagnosed, knowing what I know now, I believe that the commonality I shared with many of my students was Attention Deficit Disorder.
Some might ask, why is she writing this story now at this time in her life? The answer is simple; it was time.
I Am So Much Better Now, is dedicated to all those children and adults who struggle with staying on task. Please believe that you are important, intelligent, and have so much to offer. I encourage you to be the wonderful individual that you are.