The community relations manager at the Springfield, NJ, Barnes & Noble dropped me a line the other day. She had seen me plugging my book Sarah Gives Thanks back in November and liked my presentation. She liked it so much she asked me to be a guest speaker for the store’s upcoming Educator Appreciation Days.
This offer made my day, for I can appreciate teachers with the best of ‘em. I’ve been surrounded by teachers – either by choice or design – my entire life:
My wife and soulmate, Ellen, is a teacher.
My sister is a teacher, too.
And I’ve worked in schools (as a non-teacher) for about 15 years.
But my love and respect for teachers goes back to when I was a wee bitty thing; both of my parents were teachers.
My mom taught in the Paterson Public School System for 26 years, which is a kind of a miracle, really. During her tenure, she won several Teacher of the Year Awards, more than a few mentions in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and – don’t ask me how – an NAACP Award.
By the way, can you do me a favor and not tell Mom I told you any of this? Mom doesn’t like being talked about – even when the talk is complimentary, which it almost always is. Case in point: When Mom won her first Teacher of the Year Award, she didn’t even tell her own mother about it. Mom and Grandma weren’t mad at each other or anything, Mom just didn’t want Grandma to make a fuss about the award. Instead, Grandma made a fuss about having to learn about Mom’s award from “the G*****n newspaper.”
That was a fun conversation to overhear.
Mom is also tough. You had to be tough to teach in the inner city, and she often took that toughness home with her. When I once told Mom that my third grade teacher “didn’t like me,” Mom’s reply was, “So what?”
It’s been more than 30 years since Mom and I had that conversation and I still can’t improve upon her advice.
It was at about that same time that Mom decided on The Allegra Family Motto: “Don’t Be a Candy-Ass.” Someday I shall get that sentiment embroidered on a pillow.
Unlike Mom, Dad likes being talked about. I’ve mentioned him a few times on the blog before – most notably in May when I praised him for his Indian Guides leadership skills.
Dad was a public school administrator who possessed the dual skills of being very good at his job and knowing just the right thing to say or do to drive superintendents crazy.
Back in the 1970s, Dad wrote some very popular math books, which is hilarious, because he, to this day, has trouble figuring out how much to tip a waitress. These books, I’m proud to say, were a very big deal. The publisher even flew him around North America to speak to educator groups. (By the way, Albert Whitman & Co., if you wanna fly me around the country to promote my book, I am more than happy to go. Just sayin’!)
At the end of Dad’s career, he founded and ran a very successful school for kids who had troubled childhoods and, in some cases, brushes with the law. Whenever I would come to visit Dad at his school, he would greet me at the door with a boisterous, “Detective Spencer! So nice to see you!” This announcement prompted an eerie and awkward silence in the classrooms, as each kid racked his brain to determine if he had recently done anything that was worthy of arrest.
Mom and Dad were a great influence on me, as you can imagine. So when that Barnes & Noble community relations manager asked me to speak at the Educator Appreciation event, I was quick to say yes.
“How many teachers would I be speaking to?” I asked.
“It varies from one year to the next,” she admitted, “but the last one had about 130.”
Woah. I’ve never had much trouble with public speaking, but that’s a pretty big crowd.
But I’ll be fine, I think. And if my nerves get to me, I’ll just call my mom.
And Mom, true to form, will remind me of the Allegra Family Motto and send me on my way.