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Have Need, Will Mooch : Elizabeth Teicher wants the best for her cash-strapped kindergarten class, and she'll ask just about anybody for just about anything--for free. : It isn't easy to say no to Mother Mooch.

July 29, 1993|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just ask big screen mass-murderer Freddy Krueger. Or Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams. Mr. Senior Citizen Universe. Actor Ed Begley. Chevy Chase's wife, Janie. Or the folks from Good & Plenty candy, Magic Mountain and the Frigo Cheese Dinosaur Man.

Bozo the Clown, however, pulled the ultimate no-no: He said N-O. So did Cheech Marin.

But Mother Mooch knows you can't win 'em all. Savvy celebrity-stalking and big-business mooching can sometimes be tricky.

Call her a bilingual kindergarten teacher in a financially strapped North Hollywood elementary school. Call her a foot-firmly-planted-in-the-door, hard-sell of a woman with a flattened Brooklyn accent. Call her a vacuum cleaner of kind gestures. Or, like her colleagues at Oxnard Street Elementary School, call her Mother Mooch.

Elizabeth Teicher doesn't care.

But when she's out to do right by her kiddies--to grab the entire world by the collar and yank it into her classroom--you best come up with the right answers to this teacher's pop quiz:

Yes. Certainly. Be right over.

Bring along your autographed glossies. Brandish your anecdotes and experiences. Or, better yet, haul over a trunkload of your product--be it pens, towels, shampoo, ice cream, cookies, jelly beans or bagels.

In almost 10 years, Teicher has hosted scores of guest speakers ranging from Hollywood actors and product salesmen to military officers. Her specialty is getting people and companies to do their part helping her students learn.

"When someone shows up at the school in a funny-looking costume or carrying an armload of some product, the people in the office don't even ask questions," she says. "They just show them the way to Miss Teicher's room."

So successful has her quest for sometimes oddball donations been, Teicher has been asked to coach a one-day seminar for student teachers at colleges in the San Fernando Valley and San Diego.

Her secret is in her delivery.

"It's a winning combination," Mother Mooch says. "I try to be funny on the phone, and I have low-income kids. When I get the company spokesmen laughing, I hit them in the heartstrings. Nobody likes to say no to a bunch of kindergarten students."

Teicher, 39, was born equal parts carnival hawker, saleslady and classroom commander. Half her known living relatives--uncles, aunts and that sort--are educators. Her dad taught shop; mom was a teacher's aide.

During one of her first experiences guiding a bilingual classroom--10 years ago in East L.A.--she couldn't believe how few supplies she had to work with: No chalk, no pens, no paper. Few reading materials. If she wanted it, she discovered, she had to pay for it.

So Teicher showed up at a local restaurant and asked for children's menus--which she used to teach reading and math.

Mooching, it seems, was in her blood.

During school, she reads the newspaper daily to her students, selecting current events, arts stories--anything to increase their cultural awareness. And when a story catches her attention, Mother Mooch picks up the telephone or writes a letter.

If there's no response, she may try again. And again. And again. Now the school principal and fellow teachers come to Teicher when they need supplies.

"She's incredible to watch," says Anne Smith, the school office manager who coined the nickname Mother Mooch after the nursery rhymes' Mother Goose.

"She's funny. She's sad. She's to the point. She portrays herself as this pathetic little kindergarten teacher at a low-income school with great needs. And it's all true. Well, people just don't know how to say no to her. Whatever we ask for, she manages to come up with."

Adds school principal Al Cortes: "She even got a local movie studio to adopt our school. One day I told her, 'Elizabeth, we need someone to adopt us.' I expected some local restaurant or something. Next thing I know, she has this famous studio. I said 'How do you do these things? How do you do them so fast?' "

It's chutzpah, Teicher says. And persistence.

When she tries a new product, she gets on the phone to see what the company can do for her kids. "If I like a product, that company better watch out," she says. "They're in trouble."

Radio stations have sent her towels, scores of towels, and she's received oceans of shampoo, and forests of pencils from major auto dealers. She's received free bagel coupons, and companies have sent her jelly beans so she could teach children about the beauty and value of colors.

And when her students progress in reading, she takes them to dinner in groups of two or three--compliments of local restaurants.

"She's definitely got style," says Roxie Dean, a community relations representative for Toyota, which supplied some pencils. "She even sent us a thank-you letter, which doesn't happen often."

Teicher's classroom visitor list is impressive.

Robert Englund--the big screen's Freddy Krueger in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films--showed up to talk about acting. And, of course, to say that people really don't treat each other as badly as he does on screen.

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