Hi Amy. I’m so glad to be with you talking about learning. So, I’d love it if you wanted to just give a little intro to folks so they know who you are.
My name is Amy Mascott and I’m a former high school English teacher and currently a reading specialist, who was back in the classroom teaching reading just a few years ago, but now I am home and working on my blog and books. I write about literacy and education and how parents and kids can make strong connections and build bridges between home and school.
Thanks, and where can folks find your blog, what’s your blog called?
My blog is Teach Mama.com, and I actually reside in the Washington, DC, metro area. So, there’s a lot to do down here for sure, as far as education is concerned.
Wonderful. So, let’s jump into it. If we’re talking about learning as going from not being able to do something to then being able to do it. What messages you got from teachers, from friends, from your family, about who you were as a learner.
When I I was in high school, it was very clear – and granted this was the 90s – graduated in ‘94. Which might as well be 100 years ago. But, it was very different than it is now. Thank goodness. I remember like cooperative learning was not really a thing and there was no such thing as a growth mindset.
So, I remember distinctly feeling like math was not my thing. Even though I was in advanced math classes, math was not my thing. I always struggled with math. And I’m talking like trigonometry and pre-calculus, classes that are hard for really most people. It didn’t mean that I was not a smart person, but I remember feeling almost like there was no hope, which is a horrible way to feel. I remember having a tutor from one of the local colleges. My mom and dad scraped together $15 a week for this kid to help me, and I remember sitting with him at the table and thinking that I am hopeless. So, I tried and I barely made it, but that is really the antithesis of what I tried to do with my kids.
I really truly believe that all those labels that I grew up with – you are good in math, or you are bad in math, or you are good in English, or you’re bad in English – that just doesn’t even exist at this point. I feel like there’s always hope, and that’s what I’ve always tried to encourage my students into believing that brains grow, stretch, and change.
That is really the opposite of what I’ve tried to encourage with my kids. I have three kids, 14, 16, and 17. I have one who is particularly strong in mental math. Always has been, and he has always felt like he wasn’t good enough at things and that is really what we try to discourage. He is a good reader. He is a great thinker. He is a great writer, even if he may need a couple revisions, or a little bit more support to get there.
How have you seen him process that? For example, if the student next to him doesn’t need to revise a couple times and he does. Are there sort of affirmations, or ways of thinking that you encourage him to use or that you’ve seen him pick up from elsewhere that gets him through that? I’m not as good as some other people. I’m probably better than someone else and you know, here I am and something that I struggle with a little bit?
He’s my middle. So he’s pretty much like, “I do what I can.” And actually that’s not a bad thing. I do believe that in fact, I, as the oldest of four girls, probably could have used a little bit more of that “do what you need to do and you don’t have to stay up till one in the morning and get this perfect presentation.” Or “do this project or retype this thing.” I could have used a little bit of encouragement from my parents. That way just aim, get it done, and it’s all okay and you do not need to be perfect, we love you no matter what.
I am also trying to recognize where my kids are learning. Not coping skills, but survival skills. It’s how to manage those kinds of skills. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If he’s not revising and revising and revising. Or maybe he’s just okay with getting it done, because he wants to go across the street and throw the lacrosse ball with a couple of his buddies.
Yes. Definitely. Well, as you know, I’m also the oldest of four girls. So, talk to me about that. When you use the word perfectionist. So, where do you see that still coming up for you and if so, and if not, how did you or do you deal with that now, as an adult? you know, there were messages as kids that sort of stick with you, right? For your whole life, but now it sounds like you’re able to notice it. So, what do you do now and that kind of comes up?
I worked with a business coach a couple years ago who helped me with that because you know I kind of dumped all my “must do things” for her and one of those things was I needed to finish an online course I was taking to maintain my certification. If there was a job to be a forever student, I would sign up for that job. I love learning, taking classes, and I love doing assignments. It’s weird, but she was like “what do you need to do, to get that one off your list?” And she helped me do things minimally to get it off the list. It made sense. It didn’t make or break what I was gonna be doing. After I had my certification, it did not matter. I just needed my certification. So that was helpful for me. But, it’s something I have to probably remind myself of regularly and I think now that I’ve got three teenagers and I’m tired, I think that has helped.
Done is better than perfect.
But I see this in my youngest, she has a propensity to yearn for perfection. So, we’ve had to have these conversations with her. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done and your worth is not determined by an A on this. Insert anything. Project, assignment, ceramics, plate, or whatever.
Do you feel like she’s able to hear that or do you feel like she’s getting those messages from elsewhere and so maybe you in combination to elsewhere are helping her? How does she respond to that?
I think it’s hard for kids now because there is very little that they can control if she feels like she can control this. I kind of want to give it to her in a sense. You can do as well as you want on this. I just keep emphasizing that. I guess this is where the social and emotional learning comes into play, more so than ever. My husband agrees that our kids’ mental health and emotional wellness trumps any academic successes that they have. We’re really careful here to make sure that is clear.
If they need a mental health day then they can take it. If they need just a day to sit with me or sit with my husband. Luckily my husband’s parents were both teachers too, so If they need Spanish help from their grandpa or math help from their grandma, then we make sure to have them over as soon as possible. But we’ll add that to a dinner or a breakfast. So it’s more like a kind of bonding time and not just, you have to get that A, you have to get that A.
It sounds like your daughter’s driven and wants to do well so then you’re providing the counterpoint of “you know you can take a break if you need to”, and “done is better than perfect.”
I wonder if someone had a kid who was more like “I don’t really care about school” they may feel like their kid needs a push, so I’m wondering how you found that balance.
With her, it’s a little bit different. She does have the push. My son is a get it done, and that’s it. My oldest is, I think recently, needs a little bit more of a push, but moving into her senior year, with college on the horizon. You know, things are a little bit different..
Honestly, I feel like it’s a really different ball game right now. If parents are seeing that their kids are a little less motivated, I would hope that everybody kind of steps back and looks at the bigger picture because you know our kids really really did just experience trauma of epic proportions. I read somewhere actually in the post today, it said a teacher wrote in asking for help saying all of her high school students are angry and exhausted and the energy and morale is very low. She said they left school with one body and they came back two years later with a different body and basically the same brain.
I think that we really do need to take that into consideration. I’m hoping that the whole pandemic forces us to rethink our knee jerk reaction of sending kids to a 4 year college and expecting A’s. We need a restart. But maybe, this is just a tired mom of teens. I don’t know how other parents feel. This is a tricky topic, Talia. It really is.
There’s no one right answer. My last question for you is when you look at them and they’re learning styles, especially our oldest two and then you think about you know kind of you as a kid, you as the really wanting to do right get that a kind of perfectionist style and use “Let’s get it done”, “Let’s focus on our social emotional health” and that voice inevitably of you as 14 or 15 year old is like, “but it has to be good and right!”
How do you balance that? Where does that come up for you and what do you do when that happens?
That does happen quite a bit. I mean, the kids in our county here in Maryland have redo after redo after redo. There’s no zero. It’s like they always get 50%. We also don’t have exams. No midterms and no finals. Right? I’m thinking, these kids should all be excelling. They end the quarter with a 120 percent average. Confetti should fall from the sky. Their grades should be stellar but so that is hard for me.
When they are so nonchalant about things, because I want to scream and shake them and be like, “you have it so easy. How are you gonna manage in college?” When grades come through I always screenshot anything like 90 or above and put it in our family chat and write, “Yeah!” “Way to go!” “Awesome!” Just to celebrate the successes. Instead of shaking this paper, this little pathetic project and be like, “This is awful!” so that is helpful. I feel like many parents find that their kids don’t read their family chats. But if I don’t include one of the kids then I hear it. Somebody will say “Didn’t you see that I got like a blah blah in my Spanish? “Why didn’t you include it in the family chat?” You know, so maybe that’s the modern gold star.
Right. They’re looking for it. They’re looking for it.
So, I guess to answer your question, I try not to berate them or embarrass them, but rather celebrate the successes.
Whenever they may be. Yeah. And whoever may see them. Even if it’s just five of us.
Purposeful praise or you know, really finding the wins.
Yes and purposeful praise, I’m glad you brought that up.
Amy, thanks for this. Thanks for chatting with me today.
It was so nice to see you.
Amy Mascott is the creator of teachmama.com, where since 2008, she has helped families cultivate meaningful connections and build important bridges between home and school. A Reading Specialist, author, and influencer, Amy has truly expanded the walls of her classroom, lending her expertise at local and national events all around the country and online. Married to an elementary school principal, Amy resides in the DC Metro with her three crazy-cool kids, a dog, and way too many books.