Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Teaching Tommy: A Second-Grader with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Teaching Tommy: A Second-Grader with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Article excerpt

Ms. Fachin sees medication as a last resort and believed that Tommy's difficulties could be managed with a comprehensive behavioral and academic program. But, despite her arsenal of classroom interventions, Tommy needed something more.

WHEN TOMMY walked into my second-grade classroom on the first day of school, I was happy to see a familiar face. I looked at him with sympathy and hope, wanting to make the year one of learning and of building self-esteem.

Tommy was coming to my class with a difficult year behind him. He had spent first grace in a highly structured classroom, and he had not conformed to its behavioral standards. The behavior modification used with him in that class had included the removal of rewards, and Tommy had experienced little success in keeping the rewards he earned. He was often in trouble, and everyone in the school knew his name. He was three-fourths of a year behind his peers in reading and writing. These experiences led Tommy to believe that he was stupid and bad. I was determined to replace his negative self-image with a positive one based on academic and social success.

Tommy and I already had a history before that first day of school, for I had tutored him once a week from May through July. Originally, Tommy had qualified for home tutoring because of a myringotomy and an adenoidectomy. In preparation for teaching Tommy at home, I talked to his first-grade teacher to find out about his capabilities and to see if she could recommend any materials. I was disappointed when I talked to her because she seemed so negative about him, yet she lacked any precise descriptions of his learning. I met Tommy with the impression that he had had a tough break--a little child facing a teacher who had no hope in him and who lacked the flexibility to meet his needs. Tommy's mother reaffirmed this impression when she described how the teacher wanted him tested and how she was afraid that they just wanted to drug her child so he would be easier to handle.

Tommy snacked on cupcakes and soda as we worked at the kitchen counter. The phone would ring, and siblings would be preparing to go to after-school activities. Tommy wiggled and slid about on the chair, and he would often take bathroom breaks. By remaining firm, I was able to get Tommy to read and write with me. We talked about his interests, and I got to know him. He had a very limited sight vocabulary and could not predict vowel sounds. He could identify most consonants but could not identify the correct vowels, nor was he familiar with how to spell common endings. Although Tommy did not like to read and write because it was such a struggle, he loved math. Using his fingers, he could calculate all first-grade-level addition and subtraction problems quickly and accurately. Tommy felt very confident of his mathematical abilities.

I became attached to this rough-and-tumble boy with the blue eyes and the big smile. He told me about his daredevil biking stunts and about jumping out of tree houses. Grass stains on his jeans, scrapes on his knees and elbows, and dirty hands were his hard-won war wounds. Tommy struck me as very inquisitive. He spoke of such experiments as creating a pocket of air under water with a bucket. I wondered how I could tap into his creativity in the classroom. Tommy was a very active boy who had trouble maintaining eye contact and concentration, but I attributed these characteristics to his personality, immaturity, diet, and environment. I couldn't understand why a teacher would be so negative about handling him in the classroom.

Over the course of the next school year, I found out why. But I also discovered the joys of teaching Tommy.

Second Grade

Because of my experience tutoring Tommy and my hands-on teaching style, Tommy was placed in my class for second grade. By the third day, I had contacted Dr. Mitchell, our school psychologist. Tommy was singing and making loud noises throughout lessons. …

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