In its various versions, it’s enjoyed more than a million views. I understand its popularity. What I want to explain today is why it frustrates me so very deeply.
I’m talking about Taylor Mali’s poem/performance piece, “What Teachers Make”, a powerful, clever, and moving riff on the disconnect between what teachers are paid and the difference they make. The context is a dinner party at which Mali responds to a fellow guest’s questions, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?” and “You’re a teacher, Taylor. Be honest. What do you make?”
Taking “be honest” at face value, Mali proceeds to rip his interlocutor a new one. Here are a few choice nuggets:
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?
I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.
I make them apologize and mean it.
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?
I have to admit, even as I type this, I’m a little flustered. Okay, really flustered. But not simply angry: rather, I’m saddened, and kind of triggered, by this piece. You see, I have a decent idea where this guy is coming from, having taught in conventional schools at the beginning of my career. Twenty years ago, I likely would’ve thought this was the most brilliant, eloquent defense of the profession I’d ever heard.
Because it’s true: teachers willingly place themselves in stressful environments; they paint big targets on their backs. And why? Continue reading