‘Just because they’re little doesn’t mean they’re not individuals’

Actress Lisa Ann Walter talks being a young mom and supporting teachers. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Actress Lisa Ann Walter talks being a young mom and supporting teachers. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life’s parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.

Abbott Elementary fans will be pleased to know that Lisa Ann Walter, who plays fiery second grade teacher Melissa Schemmenti on the acclaimed sitcom, is just as passionate about education in real life, too. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, Walter saw her mom teach public school for decades. “She loved all of her kids like they were hers,” recalls Walter. “She fought for them. She believed in them. She expected a lot from them.”

Seeing her mom in action fostered Walter’s appreciation for the hard work educators put in. “I always respected the fact that teachers were going through a lot and needed the support of the public, especially where they’re being underfunded,” she explains. “We’re not paying them enough. The least we can do is actually get them supplies so they’re not paying for themselves.”

It’s a message she’s taking action on this year by partnering with BIC and Kids In Need Foundation to gift teachers with free school supplies ahead of the new school year. And on Aug. 3, the comedian and BIC are hosting educators, families and more at the BIC Supply Closet, a pop-up experience where visitors can check out new products from BIC, write thank-you notes and record personalized video messages for their favorite educators and help fulfill school supply wish lists. In addition, anyone can support Kids In Need Foundation’s mission online, and each teacher supported through the program will receive two boxes filled with a semester’s worth of supplies for 24 students.

As a mom of four — to Jordan, who is in his mid-30s, Delia, 31, and twin sons Spencer and Simon, 22 — Walter also wants to encourage parents to get involved. “I know that people are busy,” she acknowledges. “I certainly was. I didn’t have a regular job. I was doing 100 different jobs and always going from here to there.” But she emphasizes the importance of connecting with your child’s educator so you can work together to further your child’s education and take action at home that supports what’s going on in the classroom.

One way she did that: “We had movie night every Friday night as a family when [the kids] were little,” recalls Walter. “I started doing flashcards, and then, when they got it right, they would get a poker chip. And when they got enough chips, I had a candy store. And they had to do the math to figure out how many chips they needed for the different candies.”

She says she learned early on from her mom, who taught her to read when she was 3 years old, that fostering a love of learning can preempt frustration. “I learned to love to learn,” remembers Walter. “And then it makes it easier for everybody. The parent isn’t dragging the kid kicking and screaming.”

The Parent Trap star believes it’s important for both parents and educators to honor each child’s individual learning style. “There’s different ways in which they learn and different subjects that they’re interested in,” says Walter. “If a parent and a teacher can get their heads together, figure out how the kid likes to learn, or how it’s more effective for them to learn, [and] what they can do on each side to facilitate it, we get a better result with the student.”

Walter recalls noticing just how different her twin sons were in this regard. “My boys went to the same schools all the way through, and then in high school, one of them was not doing great in the very structured, Catholic school system,” she remembers. “The other one is great at structure.” By honoring her sons’ learning differences and distinctive interests, both boys thrived.

“Just because they’re little doesn’t mean they’re not individuals,” says Walter. “[Figure] out what it is that they love and teach them through that. Maybe your kid loves cooking. Cooking is a great way to teach them math.”

Although her kids are now grown, Walter vividly remembers the challenges and joys of being a “very young mom.” “I got pregnant with [my oldest] right out of college, and I lived in a town where it was all women that were in their 40s having their first kid,” she notes. “I was in Mommy and Me classes at the Y in a leather jacket at 23. I had nothing in common with them, and [my son] was my buddy. When I was starting to do stand-up, he would run around with me all day. I would practice my stand-up in front of him, and then, I’d hand him off to his dad. They would go on the bus, I’d keep the car and do stand-up in New York.”

Nowadays, watching her kids blaze their own unique trails and pursue their most ambitious goals, just like she did, brings Walter a great deal of happiness.

“Sometimes you have to let go of preconceived ideas based on what your child is going through or what the culture is going through,” she observes. “It’s not necessary that every kid goes to Yale. I’m proud of all the kids. My kids who are musicians, anything that they create, I just cry immediately because I’m so proud. And as a person who made a living as a performer, I’m gonna be the last person to [say], ‘Don’t chase your dreams.’ My greatest joy is watching my kids chase their dreams and fulfill them.”

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