Natalie Morales has just graduated—to the news anchor job on NBC News' Today show, alongside celebrity morning hosts Matt Lauer and Ann Curry. Like most working moms, Morales is torn between a career she's passionate about and spending time with her family, which includes sons Luke, 3, and Josh, 7, and husband Joseph Rhodes. We sat down with her to talk about how she manages to stay involved in her kids' education. Listen in.
The school decision
We looked at all the options, and now Luke is starting his first year in a Montessori preschool. Josh is starting second grade at a private school. The town where we live is booming, and there are so many children that the schools are overcrowded and choices are really limited.
When Josh was in preschool, there was a “helping parent” every week, and we had to go in eight times a year! At his current school, they expect us to volunteer, but we can do so when we want. You have to bring a snack and a project for the kids. Last time, I decided to have them make Rice Krispie treats, and it was a sticky, melting disaster! Another time, I did a presentation for his current-events class on what it's like to be a journalist. Afterward, when I was in Chile covering the rescue of the trapped miners last fall, the class e-mailed me as they followed it.
I didn't get to go to Josh's first parent-teacher conference last spring because I was in London covering the royal wedding. It works out, though, because their dad has his own business, so he has the flexibility to attend things I can't.
Searching for answers
It's gotten harder to explain being away as Josh has gotten older. When I come back, I tell him why the event is important to history and that it's my job to share it with the rest of the world. By covering stories like the need for education reform, we get viewers engaged and talking so we can come up with solutions. And I really believe kids need to see that their mommies can have these careers, too.
The learning curve
When I was first pregnant with Josh, I thought I'd do flash cards and teach him Spanish, but then I realized, what would this kid really be learning? We had an 18-month-old on Today who could read words but had no idea what they really meant. You realize that you need to make your life easier and that kids need to be kids. Luke's preschool's philosophy is that they learn by doing, by playing. I can't imagine a preschool curriculum where they all sit down and write letters.
Josh didn't have any homework in the first grade, so this is our first year with that. Our policy is to give him some downtime, and then do the homework after dinner. He's allowed a half hour a day of video games during the week, maybe a little more on the weekends, but he has soccer and other activities as well. Already he and his friends are calling each other and saying “I'll battle you online!”
Being on a morning program can be tough. Saturdays and Sundays are my only days to make their pancakes. And I really wanted to be able to drop Josh off at school last year because he can be a worrier. I think I miss not being around in the morning more than they do, however! They'll put the show on for a few minutes, but I have to compete with the cartoons. I usually lose out to Scooby-Doo.
Join Natalie Morales for NBC News' second annual Education Nation Summit in New York City the week of September 25, 2011, and engage in a national discussion on improving education with top educators, elected officials, policymakers, and fellow parents. Find out where you can catch the coverage at educationnation.com.