What we can learn from Channing Tatum's struggles with ADHD

“I've never considered myself a very smart person,” he said. Our schools need to figure out how to handle this

Published October 17, 2014 5:04PM (EDT)

Channing Tatum        (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
Channing Tatum (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

I have enough people in my life with severe ADHD that I can point out the patterns. Kid shuffling in his seat. Looping in the room in a circle. The back-and-forth pacing. Hysterics over what appears to be a simple worksheet. And all of these kids — and their parents — will be the beneficiaries of Channing Tatum’s awareness-raising interview in this week’s issue of the New York Times’ T Magazine, where he speaks candidly about his struggle as a student with ADHD.

“I have never considered myself a very smart person, for a lot of reasons,” Tatum says. “Not having early success on that one path messes with you. You get lumped in classes with kids with autism and Down Syndrome, and you look around and say, Okay, so this is where I’m at. Or you get put in the typical classes and you say, All right, I’m obviously not like these kids either. So you’re kind of nowhere. You’re just different.”

We’re no longer in an age where it’s acceptable for special education students to be pushed to the side because no one can manage their needs — except that’s exactly what’s happening all over the country. In 2013, Seattle Public Schools was accused by the state of “failing to keep an accurate count of its special-education students, doesn’t ensure that all students who qualify for special-education services receive them, and often doesn’t follow the academic plans all such students must have,“ according to the Seattle Times.

Just this year, my brother and sister-in-law, after experiencing a challenging year in one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s “top” schools, moved my nephew, a second-grader with ADHD, to a private school in Los Angeles. “The [public school] teacher said, ‘I want to work with him more about certain things, but she didn’t have the time or capacity. They had no wiggle room,” my sister-in-law told me. “If you don’t fit that L.A. Unified curriculum for that day – they don’t have the resources to deal with you. If he stayed in public school, he wouldn’t have passed second grade. He would have been lost.”

In New York, 60 percent of complaints about special education services were up from the previous year, reports Chalkbeat, a news site covering special education in New York. More specifically, in P.S. 44 on Staten Island, one teacher was left with a classroom where 19 out of 32 students had disabilities, according to the complaints.

“That’s illegal,” said my husband, a special education teacher at the New York City Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies, a consistently top ranking school. “When you move toward inclusion it has to be 60 percent of general education and 40 percent of special education. That’s the legal ratio.” The inclusion method of teaching my husband is talking about is what many states, struggling with what to do with their special ed students, have been moving toward. Currently, studies show that in autism cases, the Midwest is far better at inclusion than the East Coast. Inclusion is a great model because it tackles education from the inside out — almost the polar opposite of what Tatum complained about in the T Magazine article. Not only does it allow the majority of special ed kids not to be isolated, but a co-teacher is brought into the classroom to help address the special education needs. This way, you’re not teaching to the “middle” of the class.

My husband's class, for instance, is made up of 32 kids, but he and his co-teacher plan each lesson for the entire class, individualizing lessons — together. It’s an exhausting job; I see it every night. He doesn’t disagree. “It’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s not impossible but it’s hard. When you’re doing your lesson, you have to think about each kid in the class and what they need for that lesson. It doesn’t always work, but that’s what you have to do.”

The problem, he believes, is that a lot of teachers don’t have the capacity to reach every student. “It’s about time, it’s about resources you have access to. But time is a huge problem. Time is monstrous.”

By Hayley Krischer

Hayley Krischer is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter.

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Adhd Channing Tatum T Magazine