What do I think teachers make?

(This is my very first blog post! Although I have written and shared many of my philosophies in the past on my personal or business Facebook page, I am now asked to share and reflect on various points of view – on purpose! What a whole new and exciting world for me! I hope you enjoy my reflections.)

This week in ECS 301, we were asked to read a spoken-word piece called What Teachers Make, by Taylor Mali. This Ted Talks presentation has received praise and has even been placed in the top 10 Education talks by TeachTalk Staff.

So how is Taylor Mali defining teachers? What is he saying that is so revolutionary?

Mali’s slam poem starts by defining the teaching profession from a common point of view – represented by a lawyer at a dinner party who believes teaching is a last resort profession. He uses the same old saying we have all heard, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I am immediately defensive myself, place myself squarely in Mali’s corner, and wait for him to fight back for all of us.

Mali is angry that teachers are not held in higher esteem. Although he does not act on his inner rage towards the lawyer at the dinner party, he certainly makes it known to us. “I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.”

“Do it”, I think to myself. “Tell him like it is”.

He then responds to the lawyer’s question, “What do you make”, by describing his role as a teacher – our role as teachers.

“I make kids work harder that they ever thought they could.” Okay, I am on board with that.

“I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A– feel like a slap in the face.” Wait a minute, I get the C+ comment but a “slap in the face?” What am I signing up for? I might use different methods than this guy. Yet, I still cheer him on, a little, especially since the audience seems to be going along with it.

Mali uses strong, authoritative words.  He “makes” kids sit, brags of denying their requests, and “makes parents tremble in fear” when he calls them.

I cringe. Is his stance more about a power struggle with the lawyer, perhaps with society in general? As a teacher, I hope to partner with parents in their child’s education. I have no wish to make them tremble.

As a teacher, Mali almost wins me over by sharing his appreciation of a kid who stood up to a bully for a classmate. He lists many characteristics that I hope to instill in my students; to question, to criticize (or rather, be critical), to apologize.  He teaches them how to read, to write, and learn a work ethic. I believe in these things too.

But, as a parent and teacher, I am offended by Mali’s arrogance, his combativeness and the overall impression I get that his students are successful solely because of him. I believe humility is a quality that is equality important to learn. We are all still students as well as teachers, no matter what age or stage of life we have reached. I believe Mali’s delivery would fail to educate those around him (the dinner guests) because of this.

As a teacher, I do want to make a difference – to evoke positive thinking and therefore change, in my students and the world that they connect with. It takes a village, not a dictator, to raise a child. And as a teacher, I can’t and won’t do it alone.








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