It’s Back-to-School Season and we had the pleasure of getting to know one of our local school leaders at Charlotte Latin School. A native Charlottean and Charlotte Latin alumna, Mary Yorke Oates began her full-time teaching career at Latin in 1987 and has frequently served as a long-term substitute teacher and language arts consultant with experience in all three of the School’s divisions.
Drawing on her expertise as a high school and collegiate athlete, Mary has coached numerous Hawks’ teams over the years, including serving the 2013-14 school year as a coach of the Middle School field hockey and girls’ basketball teams.
Mary has a long family history at Latin – Mary met and married her husband, Dr. David Oates, while they were teaching at Latin, and she is the mother of Harris ’12, John ’15, and Annabelle ’18.
Mary’s passion for Charlotte Latin shines through in everything that she puts her hands on. We’re thrilled to introduce you to our Smarty Mom this week, Mary Yorke Oates!
Smarty Mom: Mary Yorke Oates
Married to: David Oates, 27 years in November!
Children: Harris, 22, John, 19 and Annabelle, 16
Hometown: Charlotte, NC (born@Presbyterian Hospital!)
Occupation: Director of Admissions, Charlotte Latin School
Alma Mater: Charlotte Latin School, Sweet Briar College (And SAVED!), Auburn University
You have a long history with Charlotte Latin School. Tell us about it and your role there now.
In 1987, I was hired to be the varsity field hockey coach and Dr. Fox, our former headmaster, let me teach two seventh grade English classes. He was beyond generous at that point of my career. From there, I have done about anything you can do on campus. I love to write and teach writing and Latin has afforded me wonderful opportunities to do both. Now, I am the Director of Admissions at Charlotte Latin School, and I love my job. Not only do I get to meet wonderful new people every day, I also get to work with an incredibly dedicated and fun-loving group of co-workers.
We know you are biased, but it’s ok – what do you love about Charlotte Latin? What makes it the best school in Charlotte? I love the relationships at our school. It is so exciting to see the partnerships, and the deep friendships, form with the teachers, students, and parents. We are all on the same team and everyone is rooting for the child each and every day. All Schools are great if we put the child’s well-being first and foremost and if we educate the “head and the heart” of the individual. Our Headmaster, Mr. McIntosh, charges those of us who teach and lead to begin and end our day with those guiding words and thoughts. All the knowledge known to mankind fails if the child isn’t a fine citizen of the world. Those words were more eloquently expressed by both the Greeks and Churchill, but our goal is to aspire to develop lives well lived. Some folks would question why I didn’t lead with the academics, arts, athletics, service, global studies, or forensic results, but you can look those stats up! The heartbeat makes it all happen.
You are clearly passionate about education – especially in English and Literature. What advice would you give parents who want to foster a love of reading and writing in young children? I love words. Parents of young children focus on letters and numbers with great enthusiasm but I encourage parents to sing, rhyme, read out loud and make up silly languages and stories. Literacy is about exposure, not rote memory. I want to give parents the permission to relax and just enjoy those bedtime stories without embedding a phonics lesson. Let the children have fun with language—even if it isn’t any word you’ve ever heard. Also, embrace audio books. Children need to listen to the words, too.
And what advice would you give parents of older children – middle school and up – on the same topic? Encourage older children to read anything they like and listen to podcasts, too. Introduce your student to your school or neighborhood librarian. Often another adult can identify the very books a child will connect with; my daughter loves scary fiction. I run from it. Our school librarian keeps her “stocked up” with scary fiction books. Like most things with teenagers, if we parents get out of the way, they tend to engage. And, on a simple subtle note, model for your children. Subscribe to magazines and read in the kitchen. I think this helps.
The field of education continues to evolve. What do you see on the horizon in terms of educating the next generation? What forms of traditional education do you think should (or will) remain intact? One new fact I have learned is that kids prefer to read “real” books over digital ones, so it excites me to think our libraries will always be important. I think media centers will disappear and flexible learning spaces will emerge in that space. Our devices are quicker, smaller and allow for great collaboration, and I think students and teachers will crave working face to face more. We need room to further collaboration. I think there always will be a need for students to think critically and speak and write well. In math and science classrooms, multidisciplinary learning is happening in the best schools.
Many parents stress over their kids getting into the “right” college. What words of wisdom can you give those parents? The good news is the “college application” stress—while real and very intense—is short-lived because once our children go to college, it becomes about them. One of my favorite mentors once said, “There is more at any one university than any child can learn.” I have always loved that quote because the undergraduate experience should be an adventure, not a factory. If parents can focus on making the match, and acknowledging there are many possible matches, our students can thrive. Tony Jarvis, Headmaster of Roxbury Latin School, said, “I don’t know who is luckier. The child who gets into the college of his or her first choice, or the one who doesn’t.” Life has so many lessons, and the students who can handle life’s curve balls are often the most successful.
Field hockey is quickly becoming more popular for girls in Charlotte, but you’ve been playing most of your life – first at Latin then in college and now you’re coaching. What do you love about the sport and why do you think it’s gaining so much popularity? Hockey Rules! Field Hockey is a great game because it needs all types of athletes and all kinds of minds. It combines strategy, skill, strength and finesse—and if you can get past those painful middle school 0-0 games—the game becomes beautiful. And like most things in life, hitting it harder doesn’t always make the goal. I love that. Sometimes just the most elegant, little dodge and dink will do!
Another passion of yours is antiques. Tell us about that. I have my mother to thank for cultivating a love of “old things”. She is the real star in my life. She dragged me around for 35 years as she bought for her shops and taught me every step of the way. Antiques are fascinating and the ultimate multi-disciplinary study. A great English campaign chest, for example, can teach you about regional resources, art, economics and history. The drawers might reveal secret compartments for valuables or private documents. Enter intrigue, curiosity and wonder! Antiques can reveal people’s life story. My love for antiques has as much to do with the way my mother incorporated her passion into our lives. She always made people’s day better—whether on the buying side or the selling side-and she made every day so much fun. We did make a pack that she couldn’t sing at 5:30 in the morning when we were in a dark field, but beyond that, our travels together rank as some of my most cherished moments. I can’t wait for our next trip!
Now for some quick, fun questions to get to know you better…
Favorite book or author? For parenting the young child, The Hurried Child by David Elkind. For parenting the College Bound, Where You Go is Not Who’ll you Be, by Frank Bruni. To remind me to stay the course as a Mom, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and my most recent favorite, Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. You really shouldn’t ask a teacher that question because the list goes on…and on…and on….
Best place to find antiques in Charlotte? I love all the little funky spots, but check out the Stalls at Hamilton Stuart and ask to see anything from Rooney Robison Antiques!
Best part of being a Charlotte native? Knowing so many people at the grocery story, the sidewalks, the big oaks and the hooting owls I have heard my whole life.
Starbucks order? I lean towards Dunkin’ Donuts at home. I don’t know understand why a Medium is called a Vente.
Family’s favorite weekend getaway? Trout fishing
Family’s favorite home-cooked meal? Spaghetti
Early bird or night owl? Tweet tweet, I am asleep by 9 pm!
Something you’d like to learn more about? I really want to learn to play the drums, and I want to be on Flea Market Flip with my mother and daughter. We could rock that show out.
Mountains or beach? Either…Just take me away…..
Favorite way to stay fit? I am OBSESSED with 9 Round right now. Go Nikki, Lauren, Byron, Nancy, Elaine and John Dee!
Finish this sentence: This school year I hope…to help my team be the best we can be.