What My Mom Taught Me About Work

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When I was a little guy, my mom didn't work. Dad went to work. Mom stayed at home and did mom stuff. Coupons and shopping and cooking.

But Mom had a secret "before" life, when she was a teacher. In the Bronx, or someplace mysterious like that. There were a couple of black-and-white photos that proved it. It was like another world. And Mom had friends who she'd been a teacher with. Another world, another life.

When I was... 10 I guess? ... we moved from California to Maryland and Mom went back to work. As a teacher's aide. Did we need the money? Did she just want the satisfaction of going to a job? Maybe a little of both? How the heck should I know; I was 10. One day she wasn't working and the next day she was.

> Change a life. Become a teacher.

We moved again when I was 12, to New Jersey, where I went to the same school from 7th to 12th grade. And then my mom worked there, in the same building, as a teacher's aide in special education. Now you might think that would be weird or awkward, having your mom at school like that. And maybe at the beginning it did feel like that, a little. But not for very long. Every once in a while I saw my mom in the halls, and a couple of my teachers knew my mom, and that was OK.

When I was in college in Pittsburgh, my parents moved back to Maryland and my mom got another teacher's aide job. I think she liked doing it, dealing with the kids, having a job. And never had to go through the hassle of getting re-certified as a teacher. On the phone she told me that a couple of the kids were nasty and that really bothered me. Don't mess with my mom, you know? But nothing bad ever happened.

Also in Maryland my mom worked with Tony Kubek's brother. Tony Kubek was a shortstop for the New York Yankees (you thought you were the first, Jeter?) in the 1950s and '60s, but I knew him as a broadcaster on NBC's Saturday Game of the Week with Joe Garagiola. I watched every week when we lived in California, back before my mom had a job. (Also, I thought baseball games were played in the morning; I didn't really understand time zones.)

Between my junior and senior years in college, I got an internship at Scholastic Inc. in New York City, in the classroom magazines department. I hadn't given educational publishing any thought whatsoever -- the only thing I wanted to be was a Letterman writer. But it was a pretty fun summer. The people I worked with wanted to do good work, make fun magazines for kids to use in school. That seemed pretty good to me.

A year or so after I graduated, I landed back in the classroom-magazine group, as an assistant editor. I still wanted to work for Letterman, but this was OK for the time being. We weren't hurting anybody, kicking them off their land or whatever. We were helping kids learn, making it kind of fun. (Kind of -- it was still school after all.)

Years went by and I stuck around -- associate editor, editor, associate editorial director. I visited an awful lot of classrooms and met a ton of teachers. They'd often ask, "Were you a teacher before this job?" And I always got to say, "No, but my mom was." It made me feel proud and maybe also gave me just a little more "cred."

Courtesy Jack SilbertThe author with his favorite teacher

Mom even convinced a teacher or two (Kubek's brother? maybe) to subscribe to the magazine I edited. That was cool of her.

I'd cross paths with a couple of my mom's former students from New Jersey. They told me to say hi to her; I always liked that. When I told my mom that one of her old special-ed kids had passed away, she was really sad.

For 19 years I worked at Scholastic. I never thought I'd stay forever; still had that Letterman idea in my head, or something like that. Or what other sorts of jobs could I do? Teacher, that was always one I considered. And I still do, I suppose. I really like dealing with kids. And I've always appreciated and admired teachers, especially the first one I ever met.

> Change a life. Become a teacher.

> More moms who influenced us

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