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Eric Clark on ADHD Teaching and Fear is Not Forever

by Faster Than Normal

Eric Clark is not your typical educator, and his career trajectory is about as ADHD as it can get. After marrying his college sweetheart in 2006, Eric started teaching middle school math at Central Middle School, located on Boston’s South Shore. While earning his stripes in the classroom, Eric was bit by the entrepreneurship bug and launched a small tutoring company called Quincy Tutoring. Two years after starting this venture, Eric transitioned into higher education where he would become the Assistant/Director of the Center for Academic success at Eastern Nazarene College. One aspect of this role was to serve as an advocate for students with learning differences. It didn’t take long for Eric to realize that he had more in common with his students than he thought. At the age of 27, Eric officially received an ADHD diagnosis.

After 7 years in higher education, Eric decided to go back to his roots and accepted a role at the Woodward School, an independent high school for girls. This transition would then set off a domino effect where Eric would eventually find himself accepting a teaching role at the Delaware Valley Friends Schools and moving his wife and four daughters to Pennsylvania in the midst of a pandemic. DVFS is an independent Quaker school that is dedicated to serving students with a learning difference and a school with a mission that Eric could stand behind 100%.

Even through Eric’s career was humming along nicely, things were bubbling under the surface and would eventually overpower him and disrupt life as he knew it. From the death of a father, to unexpected DNA results, the emotional baggage that comes with these experiences were compounded exponentially when the underlying ADHD and anxiety went unmitigated. This interview is Eric’s coming out story, he has never shared publicly before. Enjoy!

***CORONA VIRUS EDITION***

In this episode Peter & Eric discuss:

:40-  Intro and welcome Eric Clark!

2:14-  So being a teacher w/ ADHD, your students must think you’re the coolest teacher in the world!

2:52-  Would you agree that people who have ADHD who have had it since birth and either haven’t been diagnosed early, or were diagnosed later in life, realize that when they think about it, that they are kind, compassionate and caring even more-so than the neurotypical, because they know what it’s like to be outcasts/different and don’t want to wish that on other people(?) 

4:15-  Since you got diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, tell me what it was like for you as a kid. Ref: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

6:53-  You’re now a teacher at Delaware Valley Friends School, that’s a school that’s dedicated to students with learning differences, right? 

8:44-  What are you telling the kids who are neuroatypical when they come to you thinking they are “broken”, “a waste”, you know, all the things we thought as a kid?  

9:59-  As you see these kids growing up, getting older and going into more advanced classes, what are you learning from that? You mentioned that you’re learning alot from them, what kind of stuff are you seeing in them?  

11:05-  How has it been teaching in this pandemic?  

12:25-  How can people find you?  Website: www.EricAlainClark.com and @EA_Clark on INSTA  Twitter  & @eac.socialmedia on Facebook

12:42-  Thank you Eric! And thank YOU for subscribing, reviewing and listening. Your reviews are working! Even if you’ve reviewed us before, would you please write even a short one for this episode? Each review that you post helps to ensure that word will continue to spread, and that we will all be able to reach & help more people! You can always reach me via peter@shankman.com or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials.

13:00-  Guys, you’re listening to Faster Than Normal,  I want to wish you a happy day.  If you know anyone who you think might want to be on the podcast, let us know. We’re still looking. I’ve been doing interview after interview, so we are definitely going to be booked up for the first few months, but let us know who you know, and we’d love to interview them. Have them reach out to me at https://www.shankman.com/  As always… ADHD is a gift, not a curse. We will see you in a week, keep smiling even under the mask, we’ll talk soon.

13:26-  Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits

STAY HEALTHY – STAY SAFE – PLEASE WEAR YOUR MASK.. until next time!

As always, leave us a comment below and please drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! Do you know of anyone you think should be on the FTN podcast? Shoot us a note, we’d love to hear!

TRANSCRIPT: 

Hey guys, welcome to Faster Than Normal. 

Hi you guys, Peter, Shankman welcome to Faster Than Normal background noise edition.  [producer squints eyes & boots up iZotope’s RX7].  I am recording this a couple of days before the end of the year. And we’ve got, let’s see, we’ve got my daughter in one room playing with the new dog. We’ve got the lovely cleaning woman in, in this room, cleaning everything. We have a gorgeous day outside.  Um, everyone is, is, is, is betting that 2021 is going to be better. I’m sitting here remembering that viruses don’t know how to read calendars. So it’s going to be an interesting time, either way. Welcome to Faster Than Normal, my name is Peter Shankman. I am thrilled that you are here. We have Eric Clark on the podcast today, who is Eric Clark?  Well, Eric Clark is not your typical educator, although he is an educator. After marrying his college sweetheart in 2006, Eric started teaching middle school Math at Central Middle School in Boston’s South Shore.  While earning his stripes in the classroom, he was bit by the entrepreneurship bug and launched a tutoring company called Quincy Tutoring out of Quincy! I know Quincy well.  I went to Boston University and as a photographer or a Photo major, I got to photograph all these, all these projects at different schools and like Dorchester and Roxbury and all that. 

 I love it. 

I take that, take that, uh, that, uh, accent and bring it anywhere I want.  One of the interesting things about Eric though is after he started this venture, he transferred to higher education where he became the assistant director of the center for academic success at Eastern Nazarene college.  Okay. And he served as an advocate for students with learning differences, and that’s when he realized that he had more in common with the students than he did with the other teachers.  At the age of 27, he received an official diagnosis of ADHD. (@2:14)  So being a teacher with ADHD, you must’ve thought ….the kids must have thought you were the coolest teacher in the world.

Yeah, I think so. Um, I think that’s just a lot of my personality too. There’s a lot of, a lot of love and caring and compassion that goes into, into the work that I do in the classroom. A lot of that was sort of established early on in my life… um, really having a positive outlook and, um, I think the students probably enjoy the, the ADHD mind, but, um, definitely needed to learn how to, how to hone it in, so  we can achieve the outcomes that we’re looking to, to achieve. 

(@2:52)  I would argue that people who have ADHD who have had it from since birth, you know, and, and either haven’t gotten diagnosed early or gotten diagnosed later in life, like.. realize that when they think about it, that they are kind and compassionate and caring more so than normal people, because they know what it’s like to be outcasts.  They know what it’s like to be.. um, uh, you know, the different one and they don’t want to wish that on other people. Would you agree with that? 

Absolutely. And I think my experience as being called the lazy kid, um, feeling like I could never accomplish a task that I set out to do.  If I go back and I think of my, some of my childhood experiences where I set out to do these lofty projects, like painting a barn that was located on my property. I started it, but I never finished it. 

Painting a barn on your property? 

Um, my parents ended up paying for somebody to paint it- so it all worked out. Um, but I never was, when I think back, I never was lazy. I started working at 14, 15 on the farm. Um, did Masonry work and stuff like that, but I wasn’t lazy. I just, I needed some help to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Um, so that executive functioning that, that inner space of, you know, the beginning and, you know, the end, um, really trying to figure out how to get there was the problem for me. 

Understood. I think a lot of it has to come down with the fact that, you know, when, again, the things we love doing, we do them really well.  The things we don’t like doing, we sort of start and then we never sort of half-assed them and never actually finished. (@4:15) Tell me… so you got diagnosed as an adult. So, what was it like as a kid? 

Growing up, It was, it was interesting. I think, uh, I’ve read the book Spark, probably just the ADHD sections. Um, but there’s a lot to be said about, uh, cardiovascular and the ability to focus.  So I played two, two seasons of athletics, both Fall and Winter. Um, in those seasons, I was, I was pretty spot on, I was, I was doing B work…. A work in some, some classes, but then come the spring when I wasn’t in athletics, um, things sort of tanked. Um, so growing up where, where I grew up in Vermont, we didn’t have a whole lot of access to, um, sort of specialized care.  And to be frank, I don’t know if my family had the bandwidth, um, to process that ‘cause at nine years old, um, my, well, let me back… back it up a little bit. So when I was 18 months old, my biological father passed away, um, from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and then my mom remarried about a year later. Um, but then when I was nine years old, big Tim, my Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  So a lot of our bandwidth and whatnot was focused on, on him and making sure he was taken care of. And we did well, we did what we did, what we needed to do. There was, um, I had three siblings, uh, I had two brothers and a sister…. have.. two brothers and a sister, so we did all that we could do to survive. Um, and we made it work.  Um, but I think fast forward to 27 and you see sort of the, the impact of all of the decisions that have been made… you have made throughout the course of your life, because you understand a little bit more how a diagnosis can be helpful, um, in establishing structures and systems that can help you to, to optimize and maximize your ability to be successful.

(@6:02)  No question. I mean, if you don’t put those things together, it can ruin you. And I think that, um, I mean, from what I’m hearing, you kind of, didn’t  have a choice, right? You sort of had to come out and have, have that immediately. 

Absolutely. And it was sort of, we did what we didn’t even really acknowledge the trauma that we, when you go through with a sick parent, I think I started really processing that maybe four or five years ago.  Um, and a lot of that is credit to my wife. She’s a saint, she’s a, she’s a, um, Boston University graduate with her Master’s in social work. So she has a skill set to deal with my,  with my nonsense. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t wish it upon her, but I’m very grateful to have, to have her in my life. 

It is great to have someone who can help you.  (@6:42)  Tell me about, um, so as you, as a teacher now, um, because you’re at, I totally just lost the name of the school where are you … you’re at….

Delaware Valley Friends school. 

Delaware Valley Friends right!  (6:53) So, tell us, it’s a school that’s dedicated to students with learning differences, right? 

Absolutely. So, um, my family and I decided to move in the midst of a pandemic from the Boston area to the Philadelphia area. 

Of course, as you do! (laughter) 

Absolutely, and I was, I didn’t think it was going to happen. I didn’t, I didn’t, the job prospects were, were nil, um, because of the pandemic and it didn’t seem like anybody was hiring, but I was presented with two offers within 48 hours of, of, of each other, which was, which was pretty crazy.  Um, so from what I gather, um, I’m very new to this sort of Quakerism, um, which I, wish I would’ve learned about a long time ago, cause it sort of aligns with their core values aligned with my own. Um, but with that being said, there’s a lot of Quaker schools in the Philadelphia area, um, and about 30 years ago, they came together at one of their yearly meetings and said, look, um, we do it, we’re doing all this great work, but we really don’t have a school that focuses on this particular type of student and we want to make sure that we’re serving the entire student and making sure that we’re serving these students well., um, so about 30 years ago, Delaware Valley Friends school was established, and, um, I can tell you from being there just for a handful of months, it’s a very, very special place. Um, they, they, they look at the students as, as an entire person.  They, one of the Quaker values is finding the, the inner lights. Um, so I think every person has an inner light, um, that is God within us. Um, and we try to seek that out and everybody, um, and it’s. We, we’re getting tangential here because, um, that’s what we do. Uh, Quakers typically from what I experienced, they’re not, um, evangelical, um, and it’s more of a set of core values that can be assigned to humanists, to Buddhists, to, to whatever.  There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of alignment there and a lot of inclusivity, which is something that I, that I’ve really come to love and respect. 

(@8:44) What are you telling the kids who have those different brains that just like we do? How are you, you know, and they, they come in and they think my God I’m broken.  I’m, I’m, I’m a waste. You know, all the things that we thought as a kid. 

And, and I thought I was going to encounter a lot of that, but I’m finding that students that have been at DV for a while, they’re really empowered to be self advocates. Um, and they know who they are as students and as people far better than what I do as a 36 year old.  And I’m, I’m inspired and they teach me something every day. But I think what I try to tell them is that you are capable of more than what you think you’re capable of, and I want you to acknowledge the fear that you may be experiencing. Um, and with it,  I experienced a lot of fear in my, in my classes because I teach math whether or not you have a diagnosis or not just because that’s the nature of the subject matter for a lot of students.  Um, so regardless of the fear that you’re facing, um, I acknowledge it for what it, what it is, and then build systems to help you overcome that fear because fear is, is not forever. And if you can find a way to overcome it and work through it, you’re going to be, you’re going to be better off for it. You’re going to be able to, to be the rockstar that we that know you can be. 

(@9:59)  I love that…..  that fear is not forever.  That’s a really, really smart answer. It makes a lot of sense. When you think about it… how about, um, as you see the kids growing and, and, and, and sort of moving into, they’re getting older, and they’re going to more advanced classes, um, what are, what are you learning from that? You mentioned that you’re learning a lot from them.  What kind of stuff are you seeing them do? 

I have …I got, I’m thinking of one student in particular, he’s coming at me with all of these crazy stories of historical references of, of these mathematicians, um, from, from back in the 1600’s / 1700’s.  and so on. Um, I’m finding that these students have a depth of knowledge and a depth of interests far outside of the scope of, of my content area.  And I need to find ways to tap into that. Um, to get them excited about the work that we’re doing in house. Um, and also one thing that my students are showing me is that they’re passionate for, for justice. Um, so in equity and, and, and things of that nature. So I want to find ways to incorporate those themes into the, into the curriculum that I present to them on a, on a daily basis.

(@11:05) How’s it been teaching in the pandemic?  

Um, I’ve learned a lot. I think I would, obviously I prefer to be in the classroom, but if I focused on all of the negative aspects of it, it would become overwhelming and I wouldn’t be able to do anything with it. Um, so recognizing this as just a moment in time, and we need to do our best to weather the storm because we will get through this, um, one major thing is, is really taking away the technology that we use in the virtual classroom and finding ways to incorporate that into, um, the, the face-to-face learning environment.  And I mean, just really ramping up my empathy and my caring and my compassion. I felt like I was pretty empathetic before, um, but really giving students the benefit of the doubt when they come to me saying that they don’t understand it, or if they just don’t hand in an assignment. The, the immediate reaction for me is going to be okay.  Let’s figure out why this is. And not assume that the student is slacking off intentionally because there’s a lot going on. Um, and we really need to focus on sort of the whole student and not get caught up in our own ego that the students aren’t getting the coursework done. Let’s figure out why they’re getting the, not getting the coursework done and come alongside them and help them overcome these tangential obstacles that, that could be impeding their success. 

(@12:25)  Wish I’d had more teachers like you when I was a kid..  How can people find you? I think, I think that you’re probably gonna get some questions throughout answer and definitely some of the kids, Eric.

So, on Twitter and Instagram, Eric Clark (@ea_clark) | Um, my website is being revamped. It’s http://ericalainclark.com/, but that’s with the French spelling, alainclark, but find me on the Twitters or on Instagram, and we can, we can connect on, on other, on other  platforms. 

Awesome. Eric Clark, one of the best teachers I’ve ever had on the podcast. Thank you so much for taking the time, I truly appreciate it. 

Peter, thank you so much. It’s truly an honor. Thank you so much. 

Guys, you’re listening to Faster Than Normal,  I want to wish you a happy day.  If you know anyone who you think might want to be on the podcast, let us know. We’re still looking. I’ve been doing interview after interview, so we are definitely going to be booked up for the first few months, but let us know who you know, and we’d love to interview them. Have them reach out to me at Petershankman.com.  As always… ADHD is a gift, not a curse. We will see you in a week, keep smiling even under the mask, we’ll talk soon.

Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were performed by Steven Byrom and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week. 

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