An Educator Education

That's right, Dad, I'm giving you free publicity for your 40-year-old book. Better late than never!
That’s right, Dad, I’m giving you free publicity for your 40-year-old book. Better late than never!

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.

56 Replies to “An Educator Education”

  1. Wow! That’s very cool that they called you. Your posts always make me laugh. I’m sure you will have the ‘educators’ chuckling, too. And if they don’t like your presentation, “so what?”

  2. Awesome news about the gig—break a vocal cord!—and a lovely ode to two amazing people whom I think would get along (maybe too well) with my own parents.

    Just make sure your mother doesn’t have to read about it in the G*****n newspaper, Detective Spencer.

  3. I love your parents! :o) It’s clear that you turned out well. Enjoy giving all those folks the appreciation they deserve. And yes, don’t forget to wear shoes so you don’t get cold feet.

  4. As always, your post shows the rest of us how it should be done. Your humor, empathy and love shine through your words. Don’t be a candy ass and deny it- it’s true. I think you could write a children’s book about your parents. They are classic…thanks for bringing them into our (digital) lives. Oh, and good luck to you! Forget about shoes, but socks are essential.

    1. You, Pam, leave the sweetest comments. And if by saying so, I’m a candy-ass, then so be it.

      If I did write a children’s book about my parents, I would have to clean up Grandma’s salty language. That woman uttered profanities I have not heard before or since.

  5. Nice family motto, Mike. No nonsense. When my kids tell me their teachers don’t like them, I just say, “Yeah. There will be people who don’t. Get used to it.” Then we laugh.

    1. A slightly more diplomatic version of “so what” for a gentler age. Nice!

      In the 1970s — the age of no seat belts, no bike helmets, blacktop playgrounds (with see-saws!), and leaded paint and gasoline — “so what” was about as good as anyone could reasonably expect.

  6. I admire that your parents were different yet complementary in style. My own kids will not be so fortunate!

    I must commit to carving out time to read your blog archives. With just one click I now understand your longstanding affinity for red squirrels.

    1. My parents are very, very different people, that’s for sure. But those two work so well together. The happy couple just celebrated their 50th anniversary!

      You are more than welcome to putter around my old posts. Your presence would liven up the place!

      So stay a while! Have some cake! Could I interest you in a nice glass of Chianti? It’s gotta be 5 p.m. somewhere, right?

  7. That’s great news- you’ll be a great and fun speaker, I’m sure! I love that your mother replied “So what” when you told her your teacher didn’t like you – too funny 🙂

    1. It was an funny house I grew up in.

      Although my mom would never admit it, she has an amazing sense of humor. One time when I was doing something particularly dumb, she said, “Don’t be stupid. Your father has enough stupid for the whole family.”

      And Dad was laughing harder than anyone.

  8. Congratulations Mike! This is such a cool opportunity. I’m excited for you. Your mom sounds kick-ass and you should definitely have “Don’t be a Candy-Ass” embroidered and hung on the wall. I had a nice guffaw reading her response to your complaint about the teacher not liking you! Funny! Your parents seem to be great role-models.

      1. I’ll be watching.

        I’m using your mom’s words for inspiration today as I lapsed momentarily into the pity pot. I got out of it quickly, thinking, ‘Don’t be a Candy-Ass!’

  9. Congratulations! I can actually do a little embroidery. I’m adding “sew candy ass” to my 133 item to do list. Unfortunately, by the time I get to it, I probably won’t remember what “sew candy ass” means. Ooh Ooh!!! It needs to have a donkey on it! Ha! Ass! Yes! I think you could sell shirts like that…

  10. I want a “Don’t be a Candy-Ass” pillow! You may have a marketable idea here. Perhaps Urban Outfitters would be your first client? 🙂

    Congrats on the kudos from the B&N rep!! What a huge compliment.

  11. Fantastic ode to your parents. Your mother’s response of “So what” reminds me of the many conversations I had with my students when I was teaching High School English. I believe a little bit of tough love can cut through the baloney of whining. Good luck with your speaking endeavor.

      1. After spending several years attempting to find a steady teaching job, I transitioned into other venues of employment. I currently work in the disabled student services at a university. This is a blog post on what I do at work:

  12. WOW, what an honor. I hope you KILL it, Mike!
    (And also, teacher’s are the best. Even if it doesn’t go as well as planned, I’m sure they’ll give you all these tips on how to make it better next time! (jks! You’ll kill it))
    Also, “Don’t Be a Candy-Ass.” is an amazing family motto.

  13. It’s easy to see where you get your sense of humor! I love that your dad introduced you as “Detective Spencer”! I can just imagine all the horrified faces in the classroom. 🙂

    Congratulations on being asked to speak at the Educator’s Appreciation Day. Working in the schools, I’ve met a lot of amazing teachers. You’ll have a great time. 🙂

  14. Did I miss when this would be? Is there still time to wish you luck and for you to reply I don’t need luck, whaddya think I am, a Candy-Ass? Love your family motto…reminds me of my Grandfather. What amazing parents you have! Makes me want to shout loud and proud about my folks too…who are also incredibly inspirational, if in a different way. I look forward to reading all about the event and congratulations on the invitation.

    1. Well, I don’t need luck, ’cause I ain’t no candy-ass!

      The B&N event hasn’t happened yet. A date hasn’t even been firmed up yet. Though it will almost certainly be in late March.

      So you have plenty of time to make your travel arrangements! 🙂

  15. I absolutely needed to read this after a difficult day of teaching The Odyssey to ninety freshmen throughout the day. What a legacy you have! I’m still looking forward to when I get to meet you at an SCBWI conference–B&N is just the start 🙂

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