Take Care of Kids’ Emotional Health First, Says One of Ned’s Favorite Teachers

Take Care of Kids’ Emotional Health First, Says One of Ned’s Favorite Teachers

Our guest today taught Ned’s children when they were young and he can’t say enough good things about her! Tracy Eisenberg is a 5th grade teacher at Shady Hill school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and knows how to teach neurodivergent kids, because she was one herself.

In this episode you’ll hear Tracy’s best advice for parents of school-aged children right now, how shame and disappointment affected her self-esteem growing up, and how an ADHD diagnosis in her 30’s confirmed what she already knew.

As Tracy tells Ned, she’s in the business of people, and helping her students become self-aware and achieve some agency in their lives is one of the things she loves about teaching!

City and Country School in New York City

Reach out to us with your questions and comments! [email protected].

Thanks to our sponsor, OmegaBrite Wellness! Ned takes their supplements every day. Distraction listeners, you can SAVE 20% on your first order with the promo code: Podcast2020 at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Click HERE to learn more about our sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Scott Persson.

Check out this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:
This episode is made possible by our sponsor, OmegaBrite Wellness. I’ve taken their omega-3 supplements for many years, and so has my wife, and that’s why I invited them to sponsor my podcast. I’m proud to have them. You can find all of their products online at OmegaBriteWellness.com, and Brite is intentionally misspelled b-r-i-t-e. Omegabritewellness.com.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
This episode is also sponsored by Landmark College, another institution that I have warm, personal relationship with in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently. Learn more at LCDistraction.org.

Tracey Eisenberg:
I don’t know if they have that in Massachusetts, but they had the PSATs in New York and that was what you took in 11th grade, and I remember everybody huddling around the principal at my high school and everybody was showing him their scores. We had just gotten them in. And, I remember his looking at my score and it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. And, he looked at it, and he looked up at me, right in my eye, and around all of these peers and he said, “Huh, you’re not going to college are you?”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Hello. Welcome to Distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Ned Hallowell. We have a truly special guest today. I know I always say the guests are special, and they always are, but this one has truly very personal significance to me, and I almost get choked up thinking about it, but Tracey Eisenberg is this wonderful woman’s name and she teaches school at the Shady Hills School in Cambridge, Massachusetts where all three of my children went.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
It’s a pre-K through 8. Is it still 8, Tracey?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes, correct.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Pre-K through 8 and community-ed and it really is, I think, the perfect school. I’ve never seen a school that’s like it. It’s very hard to go to that school and not come out with a solid sense of who you are and liking yourself and liking life. It’s in the paint there. There’s just a respect for people and an encouragement to be playful and experiment and grow and develop, and Tracey is the embodiment of what that school represents and she just does it beautifully, wonderfully.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
She taught one of my kids, Jack, who remembers her to this day as his favorite teacher. And, to give you an idea of what kind of teacher she is, one day, Jack came into class and he hadn’t done his homework. And, to cover it up, he raised his hand and sort of being a wiseguy, said… I don’t know what he called you, Ms. Eisenberg, or whatever, and said, “How about if you let me teach the class today?” And he, of course, thought she would say, “Jack, what are you being a wiseguy?”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
But, what did she say? She said, “Fine. Come right up and go at it,” and that was such a brilliant move. How many elementary school teachers would have the presence of mind and flexibility to know that, that’s exactly what this rather shy boy needed, was a chance to stand up and grow leaps and bounds in one school day and that’s just one of many examples of what a brilliant, creative, innovative teacher Tracey Eisenberg is. And, she’s in my hall of fame for sure, and she’s in Jack’s, and I know she’s in my wife’s hall of fame as well. It’s just you have no idea how loved you are, Tracey, by so many, many, many people.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
She also shares with me the gift of ADHD. She has it and, as you listeners know, I have it and she’s been very open about it, which is quite wonderful because it’s only in doing that, that we bring it out of the realm of shame and stigma, where it should not be. I know for a fact this condition is a potential super power and Tracey has lived that message and passes it along to her students.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, you didn’t come here to listen to me talk, but I just have to tell you what a treat it is to have you here, and I know you’ll be modest, but for listeners, this is a master teacher. This is someone who knows children, knows what she’s doing. It’s in her bones. It’s in her DNA. She just gets it. And, any child who is lucky enough to have her will be changed in a good way forever, witness my son, Jack. Well, that as introduction, welcome, welcome, welcome, Tracey Eisenberg.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Thank you, Ned. I’m not sure I’m speechless. You’re very kind and generous with your words.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, it’s absolutely true.

Tracey Eisenberg:
But, it is a pleasure to be here and I’m so glad to be able to connect with you live, at least in voice.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes, me too. It’s quite wonderful. Well, tell us, first of all, what is it like teaching little kids because you’re not a college teacher, you’re an elementary school teacher. Kids who are squirrely and want to interact and breathe on each other and what is it like? How are you handling it at Shady Hill?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Well, first I have to say that we had to just jump into it last spring, and last spring, we were all in shock and we were, that saying, building the plane and flying it at the same time and we kind of limped through until June. It was a really hard spring for everybody. And, the school, Mark Stanek and everybody, the maintenance crew, they have worked so hard to get this school ready so we can have as many kids on campus at the same time.

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, we’re doing live school every other week for the middle school and every day for the lower school, and because of the numbers, and because we have such a large campus, we’re lucky enough that we can have the kids remain six feet apart in the classroom and outside of the classroom. But, what we needed to do, was increase teachers, so we’ve decreased the class size and increased teachers. So, I now have 12 students in my class.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And what grade do you teach?

Tracey Eisenberg:
I teach fifth grade and I typically have 18 students, so I have one-third fewer students and it’s different. It’s incredibly different. But, the joy that the kids have when we’re on campus… I’m about to go on campus tomorrow for the second week, and there is… I can’t describe it. The joy that the kids have seeing each other live is… it’s heartening. They just want to be together. We’re social creatures and fifth graders are not independent enough to be successful on the computer, on Zoom, every day, all day. It’s just not who they are. They don’t have the skill set or the drive or the emotional stamina for it.

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, I feel really lucky that we can have every other week live and then, because my class is so much smaller, I can actually see all of my students on the Zoom screen at the same time, which changes the game. If I’d have to toggle between pages, I could have a couple of kids sitting under their kitchen table and I wouldn’t even know for a few minutes. So, it’s been a challenge, but the school has done everything they can. I couldn’t ask for them to do anything differently, or anything more, and the kids feel it.

Tracey Eisenberg:
They’re grateful to be on campus and they realize it and that’s kind of the special bi-product. [crosstalk 00:08:17]. We are so lucky we are here.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And they’re all wearing masks, or not? Are they wearing masks?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Oh, yes. They wear their masks all the time. We have mask breaks outside, but then the kids have to be 10 feet apart and sitting and we spend as much time… They have tents all over campus and so we have outdoor classes whenever we can. Windows are open. Doors are open. We have the desks and chairs are six feet apart in the classroom, so we’re really cautious. But then, when we get to go outside and have classes outside, it’s like…

Tracey Eisenberg:
The kids, they’re incredibly resilient.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes.

Tracey Eisenberg:
It’s just like, “Okay, if we’re having class outside, we’re having class outside,” and they’re doing it. I think that when the weather, the bad weather, rolls in, we just have to make sure that the kids have proper gear. There’s no bad weather, there’s only bad clothing. That’s what I heard, I think, from the Swedes. We need to get better clothing, I think.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s a great line. And, you ask the parents not to come on campus, right?

Tracey Eisenberg:
That’s correct. They can only drive and drop off their kids. They’re not allowed on campus, so every meeting that we have is via Zoom. I will never see parents in person on campus this year.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And, how does the online part of it work?

Tracey Eisenberg:
What do you mean? The actual teaching?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah, last week you were online, correct?

Tracey Eisenberg:
That’s correct. So, what we’ve done differently, at least in the fifth grade, I can speak specifically about fifth grade because I think the older grades do things a little bit differently with the kids being more independent and capable.

Tracey Eisenberg:
But, in the fifth grade, we actually have a maximum of teaching time on Zoom for 3.5 hours per day, so the math teacher, the science teacher, myself, we have to coordinate. There are arts, but it’s abbreviated from what it used to be. So, the kids have 3.5 hours of explicit teaching and then the rest is, rather than asynchronous working tasks, where the kids would just be offline, we keep the camera on and we have the kids work independently so when they have questions, we’re right there.

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, between 8:00 and 3:00, the kids have access to a teacher, except for recess breaks and lunch break. So, they have an hour and a half of off-screen time entirely, they’re not looking at any computer screen, but at every other minute in the day, if they have questions about their assignments, their teacher is right there and rather than emailing back and forth, and having the hour or two delay, and it works so much better than it did last spring, significantly. Kids like it because they have access to one another.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
What’s the difference?

Tracey Eisenberg:
We play games, we take breaks, we do silly things, as we would in the classroom, so they’re getting social nourishment. They’re getting the academic supports that they need in the moment. It’s not helpful to have a question and then get it answered four hours later, when you’ve lost momentum. And then, they also have time where they can be quiet, so even when they’re reading quietly, I have access to them and they have access to me. And that has made all the difference in the world.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
What’s the difference between the way you’re doing it now and the way you did it last spring?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Well, last spring, I think they were… I would teach for maybe an hour a day and I’d have access to them for an hour, or an hour and a half, and that’s it during the entire day. So, they would be working asynchronously and they would look at an assignment and inevitably, they had questions because kids, they need to ask two or three times just to make sure that they’re on the right track, or maybe they have no idea they’re on the right track and they couldn’t move forward.

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, then, assignments wouldn’t come in. They would email me a question, but I didn’t get it right away and then they put their assignment down and there was no traction. And now, we’re getting work done and the kids are feeling supported and it’s actually working for families because we have parents that are working from home and they’re not bothered by your kids saying, “I don’t understand what to do.” So, they get to work, the kids get their questions answered, they’re getting their work done and also, when they say they’re done, they can say, “I’m finished,” and then I take a look and I say, “Okay, let’s see how we can elevate your work. You wrote two sentences here, let’s see if we can elevate this to get another supporting idea.”

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, I can push them where they need to be, but when they’re working on it rather than a day late.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right. So, asynchronous means they’re not together?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Correct.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Whereas, you’re doing it now, you’re doing it synchronously, together.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes, the entire day, except for… And they love it. They love it. We’ll take stretch breaks. The school has implemented this great wellness app and the kids meditate every day and sometimes, we do it in the middle of the day. We’re experimenting when it feels best. We’re taking stretch breaks, meditating, playing games, being silly, and doing work.

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, they’re also nourished much more. I’m hearing fewer reports from parents that their kids are really sad and disengaged.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And, are you in your classroom when you’re doing this, or are you at home?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Well, it depends. When I have my son, I’m home, and then he’s on his classroom with his teacher. And then, when he’s with his other mother at her house, I sometimes go in. It really depends. We have total flexibility and support from the school to work from home or in the classroom.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
How has it impacted the faculty? Do you still feel collegiality and togetherness?

Tracey Eisenberg:
That’s hard. That’s actually really hard. Do you remember Josh Horwitz, my colleague?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah.

Tracey Eisenberg:
I think Tucker may have had Josh.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes. Well, I’m never on campus when he’s on campus and he’s one of my closest friends. We’ve been working together for 20 years. I haven’t seen him live since… Well gosh, probably this summer while we were on campus setting up our classrooms. But, it’s really different. We Zoom, we have our faculty meetings by Zoom, but those spontaneous connections that you get, it just doesn’t happen, walking on the paths, it’s just very infrequent.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Do you ever see Mr. T?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Oh, I do. I actually have his son and he had my son last year, so she’s a great guy, isn’t he?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Absolutely. Please give him our regards. He had Lucy or Tucker, or both of them, I can’t remember.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
You have so many wonderful teachers over there. Honest to goodness, I really do believe, and I’ve seen many, many, many, many schools. I think it is the closest thing to perfection in the world of elementary schools that there is out there and I’m so glad because most places, the kids are really complaining about how difficult the online part of it is. But, you found a way that the kids are enjoying it.

Tracey Eisenberg:
As much as they can. The kids prefer live, but if they have to have it online, being together all day is easier and more fun and engaging for them. They’re less alone.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah. And the alternating… My big thing is connection and I talk about vitamin C, vitamin connect and the problems these days is we’re all living with a vitamin connect deficiency. My wife, Sue, who’s incredibly extroverted, she’s every day saying, “I need more people. I need more people.” It sounds like you folks at Shady Hill are doing the best you can to provide that vitamin C.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes. Mark made the most difficult decision, but the right decision. We were going to have the entire school on campus at the same time, rather than alternating the middle school A, B weeks. But, because of the metrics and then they’re been a couple of cases, he decided to decrease the density of people on campus and it’s the right decision because I think it will allow us to stay on campus even longer, but we do have it every other week, which will help sustain us.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Absolutely, and I’m just so impressed and so heartened to hear this. I actually have a couple of patients of mine who were at Shady Hill and they’re reporting the same thing, you guys are handling it so well, and I’m not surprised.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
OmegaBrite, omegabritewellness.com, has been a sponsor for this podcast for I don’t know how long. I invited them to join us because my wife Sue and I have taken their omega-3 supplements for years and years and years. I’ve known Carol Locke, the woman who developed all the products, for many years. She’s a graduate from Harvard Medical School, and a superb physician, and incredibly careful with the products that her company creates. She has extremely high standards that are uncompromising. She’s also a really nice person. They’re a natural fit for the show because their products help with mood regulation, anxiety, as well as focus and attention as well as being good for your entire body, their powerful anti-inflammatory action.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
You can find all of their supplements online at omegabritewellness.com. That’s omegabritewellness.com. And, Distracted listeners, you can save 20% on your first order by entering the promo code PODCAST2020. That’s Podcast2-0-2-0.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Now, back to the show.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Can we branch off and talk a little bit about ADHD, a condition you and I share?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes, please.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
How did you find out about it?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Well, teaching, becoming a teacher helped me learn a lot about myself, but it took years… I’ve been teaching, this will be my 29th year of teaching and I have such an enormous sample size of teaching kids for 29 years and you start to see some similarities in struggles. So, what always started with… We noticed the kids that have ADHD, because we’re not celebrating them. We’re saying, “Hmm, something’s not working.”

Tracey Eisenberg:
Because, I think for kids with ADHD, school is the hardest time in their lives. They have to do everything that they’re told to do, in the way that might not be the best for who they are as a learner and that was true for me growing up in the 70s and 80s on Long Island in New York. It was really hard and I was not a successful student. So, I started teaching in New York, in the Village, at this small school, City and Country School, great school. Charming and the oldest progressive school actually. One year older than Shady Hill.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
If you hadn’t been a good student, why did you want to become a teacher?

Tracey Eisenberg:
It’s funny that you ask. I kind of felt into it. I don’t think my teachers would have predicted success for me. I didn’t test well, as most ADHD kids do not. I don’t know if they have that in Massachusetts, but they had the PSATs in New York and that was what you took in 11th grade, and I remember everybody huddling around the principal at my high school and everybody was showing him their scores, we had just gotten them in. And, I remember his looking at my score and it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. And, he looked at it, and he looked up at me, right in my eye, and around all of these peers and he said, “Huh, you’re not going to college are you?”

Tracey Eisenberg:
And, I just grabbed the piece of paper away from him and I didn’t even know how to react. I just remember skulking away, mortified, and it was just a terrible moment. So, what happened? I do go to college. I go to community college to get my grades up. I get to University of Buffalo and kind of limp through that as well. I think the biggest role… I think it was my brother. My brother had this enormous impact on me. He was very paternal and he was very worried about me and I was just always flitting around and he was just saying, “Let’s go to Adelphi University and I want you to check out this teaching department, and I was like, “Oh, God. Teaching?”

Tracey Eisenberg:
I didn’t really feel like I had many skills to offer anybody anything, except I was funny and resilient.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Uh-huh (affirmative)

Tracey Eisenberg:
And that’s what I could identify at that point.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Uh-huh (affirmative)

Tracey Eisenberg:
And so, I started this education program at Adelphi and they let me in on as a trial basis if I could do well in a couple of classes, which I did, then they’d let me matriculate. So then I’m there, and then it’s time for me to start doing my student teaching and they put me into this school district where I grew up and I was like, “Oh God, I can’t do this again.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
God, talk about PTSD.

Tracey Eisenberg:
No, this was at Bellmore-Merrick, and I was like, “I can’t.” So, I went to talk to a professor and I said, “I’m thinking about dropping out of the program. I have no interest in going back to the place where I failed once. I can’t do it again,” and she said, “I want you to check out a school in the Village. It’s City and Country School. I want you to go, check it out and then come back and talk to me.” And, I had one of those moments where it was a turning point for me.

Tracey Eisenberg:
So, I walked into this really cool brownstone building and it was like walking into my home, and I loved it immediately, from the smells to the people, to then the curriculum that they were then describing. Their entire curricular from age 2 through age 14. And, I then volunteered there for two weeks and then they offered me to do my student teaching there and I never left. Six years later; I was there for six years until I moved to Boston. And, it was about teaching people, not just facts. It was about teaching the human being. It was about teaching character development, who are you as a learner?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Okay, let’s say you’re not the… Learning doesn’t come easily, but how do we get you to learn? How do we exploit your strengths and mitigate the weaknesses, and help you get through this really hard time in your life, which is school?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Right.

Tracey Eisenberg:
And I learned with the kids.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes. That’s so beautiful. And why did you leave there [crosstalk 00:24:36].

Tracey Eisenberg:
And so, I fell into it. I had my brother to thank for this because then, it was something I became passionate about and I never had a passion. I didn’t have a passion. I didn’t think I could do anything. I was great at waitressing. I was good with people. I loved waitressing and I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll move to Europe and make that a career,” but it was an accident and then I fell in love with teaching and I fell in love with the kids, especially the kids who struggled the most.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Because I empathized with them and I was like, “I know, but it doesn’t have to be this hard and life will not always be this hard and hang in there. Let’s develop some tools.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And you knew that firsthand?

Tracey Eisenberg:
I knew it firsthand, and I learned it firsthand with them. But, the first couple of years, I don’t think I knew it, but it was just like I found it while I was working with the kids. So, it was a two-pronged approach, two-for-one. The kids were learning and I was learning and I was like, “Wait a second,” and that’s what I loved about City and Country and Shady Hills School because I become a better teacher every year and they invest, and the same thing at City and Country School, they invest in the teachers. So, we’ve become better people, we’ve become better teachers and there’s nothing better than that. I’m still learning. Every year I learn with the kids.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Okay, joining me now is Professor Eric Matte of the wonderful Landmark College, an institution from which I have an honorary degree. They’re also our wonderful sponsor, and they’re located in wonderful, beautiful, downtown Putney, Vermont, actually not downtown Putney, but outside of Putney. Welcome to the podcast, Distraction, Professor Matte.

Eric Matte:
It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me, Dr. Hallowell, and thank you for all your influences, honestly on my teaching and the mission of Landmark College. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, I can’t thank you and all your colleagues enough. Man, Landmark College really does an amazing job serving folks like me, folks that learn differently, and you’re the best in the business. I always love to speak to someone on the faculty there and just get a little insight. So, can you tell us what you particularly do at Landmark.

Eric Matte:
Well, in terms of the faculty at Landmark, I feel like one of the luckiest people possible. I came onto the faculty 21 years ago, the time when Landmark was just truly a mecca of education and learning and these incredible teachers that are on the faculty there and coming right out of graduate school with no teaching experience, I really learned Landmark College philosophy from .0, which is another one of our teaching principles, but just really learned how to teach there and influenced by some of the most incredible people there.

Eric Matte:
But, I am a faculty member, a professor of communication and I run the college radio station and teach about a dozen courses in communication and also, I coach the men’s basketball team.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s fantastic.

Eric Matte:
So, I wear many hats.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s fantastic. So, you know how good exercise is for our brain?

Eric Matte:
All the evidence is really conclusive on this and yeah, when we talk about training and working with students in the basketball realm, we really still talk about the whole student and complete wellness, but physical training is part of that. Physical fitness and with the guys, we emphasize not only training for basketball, but also functional, every day fitness; getting enough steps in, movement, sleep and obviously, nutrition, but that whole physical well-being.

Eric Matte:
And of course, as you know, increased memory and fitness is shown to help with executive functioning and time management and cognitive load and memory. We talk about it across all my hats at Landmark, how important just physical well-being is.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I also understand you’re a pioneer of online learning and boy, is that ever important these days. Do you have any brief remarks about that?

Eric Matte:
First of all, people can learn online and it is a new and really hot medium of education and we’re making this epic transition as educators into this new world of online learning.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Eric Matte:
I’ve been doing online teaching for a number of years now and I’m getting a lot more emails from my fellow faculty and colleagues out there about how to do this and how to do it effectively, but it can be done.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
People struggle with it. Can you give a few quick tips, both for teachers and for students, how to make online learning less onerous?

Eric Matte:
It comes back to good teaching. First of all, just being a content expert, obviously, and knowing your material. But, secondly, being flexible with your teaching abilities, diversifying assignments, being able to adapt your teaching to diverse learners and all people are diverse learners and are divergent in some way. So, those are two really important things, but the most important thing is the rapport, is the presence that you have with your students and making a connection. You have to work harder at rapport online, and so I talk about those things a lot in my work as well with how to build rapport through feedback and connections and assignments and engaging activities, asynchronously, synchronously, and how to do that.

Eric Matte:
Those three things, rapport and knowing your content and diversifying and adapting your teaching.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s wonderful. That’s really wonderful. That’s all the time we have. Thank you so much, Professor Eric Matte of Landmark College, the absolute best in the world at what they do. Thank you so much for joining us and a real pleasure to get a brief glimpse into your work at Landmark College in beautiful Putney, Vermont.

Eric Matte:
Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Thank you again. All right, to learn more about Landmark College, go to LCDistraction.org, that’s LCDistraction.org.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
(music playing)

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Why did you move to Boston?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Love. Yes. And, it was either Boston or Washington, D.C. and Boston won out.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So, she got a job in Boston and you followed her?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Well, she went to graduate school, yes. She went to graduate school to become a therapist actually. We’re no longer together, but I think, again another great woman, and also helping kids in a different way, more in line of work. But yeah, that brought me to Shady Hill.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Had you known you were gay all along growing up?

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes. I knew. The earliest memory I have is when I was eight years old and I wanted to marry my third grade teacher, Ms. [inaudible 00:32:53]. I don’t know where she is, but I knew. I would like for her to be my wife, but I didn’t have the language really. I didn’t know what lesbian was and I just knew it was also taboo. I wasn’t telling a lot of people.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah. So, here you were a different learner and your sexual identity was in a taboo place back then and you were groping your way along. Did you have a guardian angel or someone other than your brother who looked out for you?

Tracey Eisenberg:
I think my brother was the biggest guardian angel and still to today, he’s my number one champion. He is the most loyal person ever; that I’ve ever met.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s wonderful.

Tracey Eisenberg:
And then, sure, we’ve had our difficulties, but the fact that I can call him on a dime and he would be here in a second.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Tracey Eisenberg:
But, I think that there’s a lot of luck. There’s a lot of luck. You pay attention to the opportunities. And, I always knew when I was good at something. I didn’t deny it. I knew I was a great waitress. I knew it and I knew I was funny. I was always the joker and I knew that that was one of the things that when my friends go together, we would have a great time. And, I also knew my limits.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Here’s an interesting thing, my brother and my father were… A couple of years into teaching and they’re like, “You’re going to be an administrator. You’re going to work your way up,” and I was thinking, “Whoa. No way. I do not have the skill set that is required to do that.” And it would then make my life miserable. Why would I do that? I don’t need the prestige, I don’t need the extra money, I’m not looking for that. I’m completely fulfilled. I’m getting better at what I’m doing every year and I don’t want to go anywhere.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Eventually, after year seven, and I was like, “No, no, no.” They stopped barking up… I was like, “Enough. I don’t have that skill set and I’m okay with it. I don’t need that skill set because I don’t want to be an administrator.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
When was the moment that you said okay, this ADD thing, I think I’ve got it.

Tracey Eisenberg:
I don’t even think I was the first person to say it. I think everybody around me knew it, kind of like everybody around me knew that I was gay, and they were just waiting for me to say it; because the behaviors are pretty obvious.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah.

Tracey Eisenberg:
I present very… Obviously you know that boys and girls present very differently, generally; not everybody, but generally. My symptoms are very aligned with the male, very impulsive and very active, hyper, inattentive, all of those sorts of things. So, it was in my 30s that it was confirmed and I was tested for it and it was confirmed, but I already knew it. It was just okay.

Tracey Eisenberg:
But, by then, I also… Then, I started talking about this in the classroom. Then I started sharing my struggles with… I don’t even really think that we call learning challenges, learning disabilities. It’s just, we haven’t caught up. The language hasn’t caught up with us. It’s just different learning styles. It really is.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Let me tell you, Tracey, my name for it because I have it. ADHD is a terrible name. It’s not a deficit of attention at all. It’s an abundance of attention that challenges to control it and so I call it VAST, Variable Attention Stimulus Trait. So, it’s a trait. It’s like being left-handed. It’s not a disorder. It can become a disorder if you don’t know how to manage it, but it can become a tremendous asset, as it has in your life.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Right.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So, it’s usually a little bit asset, a little bit problematic and my job is to maximize the upside and minimize the downside and you’ve just done that. The two most important things, marry the right person, find the right job, so you did that and you’re helping others do the same. So, when you… You didn’t every feel ashamed of having it.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Not as a grown-up. I felt a lot of shame because of my failures in elementary school. I just felt like a loser. I just couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t successful. I didn’t just have ADHD, I had trouble learning how to read, how to write; I had the whole gambit, it was just…

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So you’re like me? You have dyslexia, too? I’ve got them both.

Tracey Eisenberg:
I don’t have dyslexia. I just have a language-based learning disorder, which influences… It’s different than dyslexia, but it just makes learning really hard and then years of compounded failure really takes its toll and I’m sure I was struggling with depression as a kid, but we just didn’t… I was pulled out for special classes, I graduated from high school with a non-Regents degree, which is the kind of standard degree that you get in New York State. I didn’t get that, which didn’t affect me at all in my life now, but growing up with these struggles and not having the supports in place or the people around to help me gather a tool-set, or [crosstalk 00:38:45]. That was hard. That was very hard.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Of course, it was hard. And now, you’re in the business of making sure it doesn’t happen to other kids. It was at Shady Hill that our first child, Lucy, was diagnosed in third grade when her teacher said to us, “I’ll ask Lucy a question and she’ll just smile. I don’t think she’s really heard me. Do you think she might have ADD?” And, I said, “Oh my gosh,” and my wife said, “Let’s go get a good evaluation.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So, it was… I can’t remember her name but she married Mr. Vorenberg.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Amy Vorenberg. Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes. Amy Vorenberg, was then Amy Purcell. She diagnosed my daughter and changed her life forever. Lucy would have had exactly your story in another school.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And feeling bad about herself and all preventable by making this wonderful diagnosis, if it’s done properly in a strength-based context.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Right. It’s the strength-based context rather than the deficit context. Absolutely.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And then, the way you treated Jack, who also has ADHD, made him feel proud of himself instead of I’m different. Yeah, we’re different, but different in a good way.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Right. We’re all different, every single one of us, but some of it’s more public. Some of our differences are public, which makes it hard for some.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yes. Until you find a teacher like you, and then you start feeling proud of who you are.

Tracey Eisenberg:
And, I think at Shady Hill, that’s why I love working at Shady Hill because the teachers, that’s what we do. We’re in the business of people. It’s not so much… We’re teaching people and helping them become self-aware, help them achieve some agency in what goes on in their lives. I just love that. I just love when we talk about kids. We have to put the kids first and it’s just great.

Tracey Eisenberg:
And the community is so committed to it. We’re a lucky community because it’s curated. It’s a curated community and so the parents are committed, the kids, for the most part, are really committed, the teachers are committed, so we have an embarrassment of riches over there, but everybody deserves this for sure [crosstalk 00:41:24] the environment.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Talk about agency, when Jack says, “Why don’t you let me teach the class today,” and you say, “Okay.” Holy moly. That was a life-changing moment and most teachers would have said, “Sit down young man and do what you’re told.” That’s not the Shady Hill way.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, to wrap up, do you have any thoughts for listeners about how they can help their children during COVID and obviously, the model at Shady Hill is one that’s worked very well there, but a listener says, “My kid is struggling,” do you have any general thoughts?

Tracey Eisenberg:
I guess I would say, and I’m thinking about this certainly in terms of my own son, so I have thought about this. I even say this to my students sometimes when they get really stressed about an assignment, let’s say. I think I have a point here, but we’ll figure that out in a minute. But, if they get really stressed out about an assignment, I’ll say, “Listen… ”

Tracey Eisenberg:
They’ll say, “I stayed up until 11:00 doing this homework,” and I’ll say, “Listen, this is fifth grade. You’re not curing world hunger. I would prefer a well-rested child than a finished homework assignment. If you’ve been late for every assignment, we need to have a different conversation about why this is happening. Any given assignment is not worth you sacrificing sleep.”

Tracey Eisenberg:
And I think we, as people, as parents, as teachers, this is a crazy time. This is a worldwide pandemic and I think that what we have to do is first and foremost, take care of the emotional health of our kids. So, if their kids are struggling because they’re stuck on Zoom, and you have the opportunity, because not everybody has this opportunity, to go outside and get fresh air and don’t worry so much about any given homework assignment. They’re not taking a medical exam. Forget the math. Forget the essay. Cozy up on the couch, watch a movie together, because no one is going to remember that math sheet.

Tracey Eisenberg:
If they’re struggling with math so much, again, that’s going to be a different conversation. Then, we have to take care of a math deficit in a different way, but I would say emotional health first and make sure that your child feels connected to the family, because that’s their primary and try to get them out socially as much as you can. FaceTime with other kids in real time, real life, six feet apart, kicking a ball around, and not worry about the small stuff, which is the daily homework. If they don’t get in a couple of assignments, that’s okay. For me, that’s okay. I would just say, what I want is for my son to maintain healthy relationships, to stay intellectually engaged and realize that this will pass. It may change our lives forever. We’ll never forget this time. This is… My son said the other day, he said, “When there’s a cure and we have a vaccine, everybody in the world is going to be happy about the same thing.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
What a great remark.

Tracey Eisenberg:
“Has that ever happened before,” and I’m like, “I don’t really think so.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, the polio vaccine.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Yes, okay, there it is. See, neither one of us was around during that time, but yes. But, this is our time. Everybody is affected, so I just try to put things in perspective, which is so easy to say because there are people that are starving, they’re hungry, they can’t pay their bills. So, I don’t have any words of wisdom, I suppose.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, you’ve already spoken so many, and I think you embody… I always say if schools would take connectiveness scores as seriously as they take reading and math scores, we’d be serving our kids a lot better and you absolutely embody that. You’re all about that, pushing connection and its many different shapes and sizes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I can’t tell you how special you are and I really, really mean that and I know I speak for thousands of people that you’ve touched and the wonderful school that you are a master teacher at. Actually, saying master teacher is against the Shady Hill ethos because they don’t want to promote one person over another, but you are a school that’s all about connection and cooperation and growth and experiment and play, in the best sense of that word.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I just thank God that my son wandered into your classroom and I know I speak for so many parents out there and I’m so glad that you’re able to now repair, or give to kids, what you didn’t get and thanks to your brother and others, you were resilient enough to make it through a champion. I can’t thank you enough. Thank you so, so, so much for joining us today.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Oh, Ned, thank you. It’s an honor to be a part of your show and I was just thrilled when you invited me and I just enjoyed talking to you, immensely.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Thanks a million, Tracey. Take care.

Tracey Eisenberg:
Take care. Bye-bye now.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
All right. Well, that’s going to do it for today. Wasn’t she fantastic? I love everything about her and what she stands for and what they do at her school and there’s no reason that schools everywhere can’t take more of that approach.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Please, continue to reach out to us with your questions, comments and ideas. Write an email or record a voice memo on your phone, and send it to [email protected] That’s [email protected] Please like Distraction on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You can also now find me on my new project. I’ve started TikToking. Go to TikTok and you can see some videos there. My handle is @drhallowell, @drhallowell. I’d love to know what you think, truly would love to know. It’s a new venture for me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our recording engineer and editor is the estimable Scott Persson, that’s with two esses and our producer is the equally estimable, Sarah Guertin. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell thanking you so much for joining us and once again, thanking the wonderful, magical Tracey Eisenberg for being our guest. Good-bye for now.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
The episode you just heard was made possible by my good friends at OmegaBrite Wellness. I take their supplements every day and that’s why I invited them to sponsor my podcast. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

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