My Teaching Journey

By Gregory Bertsch, M. Ed.

Posted: January 18, 2024

Online Tutoring

My Early Experiences With ADD and My Own Learning

One of my many reasons for deciding to become a teacher was due to the experiences I had in my early years of learning. When I was growing up, attention deficit disorder had never been discussed, so one can imagine what it was like to have a brain that was distracted continuously. Trying to focus and learn new things was a constant struggle. My journey at the time included daily frustrating experiences, being made fun of, learning slower than all the other kids, lack of time management, and my self-esteem was challenged daily. During high school, I was one of those kids who would pretend to be disinterested or fall asleep so the teacher or the other students wouldn’t pick on me. Someone would ask me a question, and I would think about it, but I was lost if any other thought interrupted me during this process. However, if there were a project or hands-on experience, I would be hyperfocused if it piqued my curiosity. The problem was I had a form of time blindness when I was in this mode and could not manage to finish because I was so lost in the work I was doing. My whole adult life has been like this, even in graduate school. I often felt out of place because I couldn’t learn like all the other students. It came easy to them, and they would read something and retain it. At the same time, the process involved reading a paragraph at a time, taking notes, highlighting things, repeating it to myself, and then making some kind of diagram so that somehow the deeper recesses of my mind would retain the material. During my Masters program, I was lucky enough to have an amazing professor Dr. Christine Woodcock. She taught in a way that allowed my brain to engage with the material. Everything in her class placed me in the seat of my students and the environment was fun and engaged me in a way I wanted to teach my future students. As frustrating as my learning process was and the number of challenges it brought throughout my life, it was also a gift when I decided to become a teacher. Having a better understanding of a mind that wanders so easily but desperately wants to learn and just can’t in the same way that other people, gave me a much more empathetic point of view.

What Our Children Face Today

Now more than ever, the world is moving at an increasingly rapid pace. Children are faced with learning material at an earlier age and our expectations have grown exponentially. Still, we have done nothing to help increase self-esteem and address attention spans. Their focus becomes scattered with YouTube, video games, and social media clamoring for attention. The increased exposure to chaotic images and constant input erodes the ability to calm down and regulate the nervous system.

The Road To Online Tutoring

Before starting my online tutoring business, I taught 1st grade for 10 years. In that period, I could see the decline of attention spans and the ability to self-regulate. I had to adapt my teaching approach each year to make things more engaging and involve movement. I knew what children struggled with focus when I would ask, “What was the main character in the story?” and one of my students would answer, “Mr. Bertsch, what state were you born in?” Sitting in on ever-increasing IEP meetings, I would sit with parents at their wit’s end with the frustrations of helping their child learn. Promising that we would find an engaging path to help their child and assuring them their child was amazing and that they simply learned differently. I always walked away from those meetings telling myself I had to get better and then got busy creating a course of action to serve my students better. Empathy for the parents allowed me to reflect on my learning history and remember how my attention always frustrated me when I was learning.

Strategies For Teaching Students With Attention Challenges

One of the most essential strategies I implemented in my classroom for kids with attention challenges was allowing them to draw while I was teaching. I never understood why other teachers got so frustrated with trying this. The first time I gave a child with ADHD some drawing tools during a reading lesson, I was blown away after calling on them, and they gave me a fully detailed description of what happened in the book without even looking up from their drawing. As teachers, we need to focus on what it is like to sit in a seat for a young student. By keeping their motor skills engaged during my lesson, these children regulated their bodies and remained engaged. There is always a path to using creative solutions for children who learn differently. We just have to find it.

After spending my last year teaching for a public school with 24 kids remotely in 2020, I noticed that many students who normally would have had an impossible time learning in a classroom full of kids could stay focused. They would be on task because there were no regular classroom distractions to compete for attention. This experience led me to leave public school teaching and start a business that enabled me to tailor my approach to the individual rather than a large group. Creating lessons that aligned with each student’s learning style and included material that was engaging to their curiosity became my goal.

How I Can Help Teach Your Child

Our children compare themselves to others daily and face frustrations that we never had to experience as a child. My approach to teaching is based on my own life experiences, and my learning journey, as well as the challenges I grappled with. Making mistakes is an important part of the learning process, and dealing with failure is essential to helping students take more chances when absorbing new material. We have standardized so many things, but one thing I know for sure is that every child I have ever worked with is different. One of the things lost has been to follow what kids are passionate about, what makes them tick, what their deepest interests are, and how things work in the universe. Two things integral to working with children are making things engaging and fun, especially for children challenged with attention. As adults, we forget this. We get lost in the importance of grades and tests and forget that finding joy in learning is the only way to sustain curiosity, imagination, and the desire to learn. Without these things, what’s the point? If you choose to have your child work with me, I promise I will do everything to discover how they learn and what makes them curious about their world, We will find out what obstacles they need to overcome, regardless of how their brain is wired. Reading tutoring online has opened up a new doorway to teaching for me. The families I have had the privilege to work with so far have taught me more than any degree has. I hope you join me on this journey to unlock the keys to your child’s abilities and help with ideas to create solutions to make learning fun again.