“What Teachers Make (Or, If Things Don’t Work Out You Can Always Go To Law School” by Taylor Mali

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Taylor Mali

WHAT TEACHERS MAKE (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 teachers:
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 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, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
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 in my classroom
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, then 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, so put your hand down.
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 tremble in fear when I call home:
Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the class, he 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 beautiful
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 if you’ve 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].

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
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