“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
Tribute to Slam Poetry



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

  1. Yes.
    Thank you for this.
    Now I can go on to grade this interminably large stack of research papers with the knowledge that they’re not just research papers. They are evidence that what I do matters…evidence that what they think matters.

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  3. Great poem. No need to bash the lawyers though. Some people in every profession are jerks. Lawyers get a bad rap but they make a difference too. Who do you think argues for the right for teachers to unionize, the right to keep schools independent from political and religious pressures, and the fundamental 1st amendment freedom that undergirds all learning/discussion in the United States? Wouldn’t you be proud to hear one of your former students had been accepted to a law school? I hope so…

  4. Amazing….It really is high time the teaching profession gets its true appreciation. And this is coming from me, a high school student!

  5. This man is nothing but a paid bully himself. With such an ego that he truly believes he is helping, when in reality he is destroying kids one by one.

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  7. Another teacher sent on such an ego trip they destroy the strong and encourage the weak, simply because they cannot stand real intelligence and whit. Turning children to monkeys, and if ‘glorified ape’ is not something the child wants to be, they will be passed on through the school as a bad egg, a failure, the kid with the attitude- doomed to be treated harshly by the teachers, for being a free thinker with the good sense to know that the system will kill them. I have seen 13 years of this, over and over.

  8. Im not a teacher and if the language was appropriate I would read this to my children. For all those who like to criticize, maybe you should examine who taught you.. Which of you know a lawyer who without a teacher became one? I say if teachers had a little more respect in this country it might stay together a while longer. Thats all.

  9. While this may be true for some teachers, and while all teachers may choose to believe it is true for themselves, I can’t say I saw this attitude in every teacher I encountered during my son’s academic career. In fact, I saw children ruined from an early age by extraordinarily banal teachers, and their support systems. Therefore, the middle finger salute doesn’t really make the impression on me that was intended.

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