Why I Embrace My Messiness Even Though I’m a Teacher (And Maybe You Should, Too)

I’ve never been neat. When I was a kid, I had a typically messy teenager’s room. But, unlike many folks my age (thirty coughcoughcough), the messiness never really went away. And my messiness has always been  more than just PHYSICAL messiness.

I would forget to eat.

I would lose my keys. Regularly.

I would walk out of the house with TWO DIFFERENT SHOES ON.

I wouldn’t complete homework assignments (unless I was obsessed with them, in which case I would finish them to the nth power).

I probably would have been late to school everyday–if I didn’t live there (thanks, Putney)!

But I didn’t really notice. That’s the funny thing about being incredibly disorganized–as long as no one is depending on you, your disorganization will probably prevent you from noticing your disorganization. Catch-22.

I mean, I got lots of things done. I did well in all of my  high school classes (ok, not in Calculus, but we won’t talk about that). I discovered a love of music. I discovered that I could write really well and that I loved to discuss big ideas.

It wasn’t until college (go Cardinal!) that I started to see that I had organizational issues. I was very good at getting involved in activities (running the entertainment section of the school paper, creating film festivals on the student television station, holding down a job), but I wasn’t always so good with following through or showing up places on time. I did what I could, but the many student organizations of which I was a member found me frustrating, to say the least. The product I created was always good, but I was a living tornado. I thought it was just the stress of college.

That is, until I started working in the financial services industry and was in charge of *gulp* PROJECT MANAGEMENT.

I couldn’t just write inspired words. I had to send the inspired words to be scrubbed by legal and by compliance. They’re the folks who make folks write things like “past performance is no guarantee of future results” and the like. They had their deadlines (no deadlines!) and I had mine, and my job was to nag, nag, nag until I got everything I needed. Even with a spreadsheet I was abysmal at it. That’s not why I left, though. I left because I was bored.

So I became a teacher. Bwa hahahahahaha! Little did I know how much organization THAT would take! I was a mess at first.

Then I switched to teaching special education. And everything changed.

First of all, because it was my job to keep my students organized, I started researching all the different tools available out there to help them do it. And as I researched more and more tools, I started using them.

And the more tools I used, the less disorganized I became. And the better I became at helping my students. Especially the ones with ADD.

Then kerpow! Light bulb. I realized that I had it. I had ADD. I was 32 years old, and suddenly my life made sense in a way it never had before. A psychiatrist confirmed it.

– I understood why folks always thought I was so random in my observations (they couldn’t follow my train of thought).

– I understood why I always had such an easy time tying together incredibly unlike pieces of information and LOVED interdisciplinary studies (I take in a lot of info and see lots of connections–I’m more of a big picture thinker than a detail-oriented thinker).

– I understood why sometimes I couldn’t accomplish even the simplest tasks and sometimes I was so focused that I could work on something for 10 hours straight, voluntarily (this is called “hyper focus” and folks with ADD have a hard time controlling it, though it tends to come when we are really interested in something).

– I understood why relationships were sometimes SO HARD to maintain (I’m at the mercy of my emotions in a different way than many others, though I’m getting better at dealing with this; and sometimes my all-over-the-place way of thinking makes others feel unheard and misunderstood).
– I understood why I was soooo messy and preferred it that way (I need to SEE everything I want, or I’ll forget where it is, so I spread out).

– I understood why consistent classroom management was (and is!) so difficult for me to maintain (I’m easily distracted by every. little. thing. so I struggle with ignoring the tiny distractions meant to take me off course and stop the lesson).

If you look closely at that list, you’ll see that there are useful and not-so-useful skills/handicaps in there. For every negative impact, there is a positive one.

I’ve been lucky enough to have the educational pedigree that allows me to see myself as 2E — Double Exceptional. This means that I have ADD but I’m also very, very smart. I know that Special Ed doesn’t mean dumb. Because I know I’m not dumb.

And that’s why I love my messy apartment, my messy hair, and my cat-fur covered jeans (okay, maybe I’m not so into the cat fur part). These are tangible pieces of proof to the world and to my students that it’s possible to be messy, to be a little out of control, and to still be scary smart, financially stable, and incredibly happy.

I’m just teaching by example, my friends. Just teaching by example.

I know myself. I know my habits. So I can work with them and use them to make myself better.

What are your big realizations about yourself? ow have they helped make YOU stronger?

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