Saturday, May 10, 2008

What Teachers Make

When I was completing my undergraduate degree to become a teacher, my classmates showed me this slam poet, Taylor Mali, performing "What Teachers Make." If you are a teacher, it's inspirational. It was helpful for us beginners who put so much work into class and didn't really get too much time in the classroom using our own materials.

Months later, I actually am using my own materials in the classroom, and it's terrifying and exciting all at the same time. I want it to be fun yet educational. Anyway, if anyone ever feels discouraged or upset from teaching, play this poem or read it below. Listening and watching him perform it is way more powerful, so I would suggest that, so give it a go. It's worth the time.

Watch it here. Here are the words:

"What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school"

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

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.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

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 get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

What do you think of his poem?


Megan B said...

Jami, Jami, Jami...

You posted this a few days too early... Jess and I are getting together tomorrow to burn CDs that we got from his performance at C-State and I was going to send them to you tomorrow... Maybe you'll have to re-visit this post.

Aside from his passion for teaching, (did you know that he has pledged to create 1000 new teachers?) he is absolutely hysterical.

When I went to his performance, I was a bit skeptical that there would be turnout. People hear the word "poetry reading" and they think of some artsy fartsy weirdo who eats tofu and studies eastern religions. Much to my surprise, a smorgasbord of guests showed up: there were jocks, kids who came because they wanted to, kids who came because they were given extra credit, English Geeks, professors, high school teachers... you name it, they were probably there.

The greatest part about it? Taylor Mali had EVERYONE laughing. Everyone was engaged. It was pretty amazing. I really wish you could have seen it.

I can't wait for you to hear his other stuff besides "What Teachers Make." I hope you get the chance to listen :o)

Check out his website for some additional info:

jose said...

Well, it's interesting you link me through the image you're using because as a teacher, I think he's awesome. I think nowadays he's solely focused on slam, but he's awesome. When I first caught that peformance on YouTube, I just nodded and said, "Wow, inspirational."

Good read.