Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Teachers Make

Remembering that dating accident reminded me of this. I googled it and found this from the one who wrote it. This has made the email rounds, and this is the original with comments from Taylor Mali, whom I applaud. I LOVE it! This is why I spent almost 40 years being a teacher.

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

By Taylor Mali

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, you're 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?


I am well aware that "What Teachers Make," a poem I wrote in 1999, has been elevated/reduced to the level of Inspirational Cyber Spam. It started happening shortly after I posted an unattributed draft of the poem on this very website. Since the poem appeared on my website, I figured my name was unnecessary. But I was wrong. I suspect the text of the poem got copied, pasted, and sent by well meaning teachers and fans. Soon enough, the poem became anonymous, and people began to edit, alter, and "sanitize" it. There are, to my knowledge, at least five different versions of the poem out there circulating. All of them are anonymous.
The poem has taken on a life of its own. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, quoted one of the anonymous versions in its entirety as part of his Yale graduation speech in 2003. This led to quotation by Harvey Mackay, the syndicated business columnist. National Public Radio did a story about the adventures of the poem in 2004. Am I disappointed not to have received credit for writing this poem that has inspired so many? Used to be. But the truth will always come out in the end. And if I had to choose between inspiring teachers anonymously or not inspiring them at all, I would choose anonymous inspiration every time.


Snowbrush said...

Needless to say, I am damned sorry you didn't get credit for your work.

Thank you for your wonderful statement about teachers.

Joy said...

That last part along with the poem was by Taylor Mali, not me. He's the one who didn't get the credit but does here and on his website.

mistress maddie said...

Love this!!!

Oxy said...

From what I see in the US, kids in general are well-behaved and have manners. If only the same were true in the UK. Teachers despair at working these days. Unruly classes, because the kids have their 'uman rights and can and will do whatever they want to. Three members of my family gave up teaching due to the excessive form-filling that went with the job, and the lack of discipline. They are not allowed to chastize a child as this 'might harm its upbringing'.
I still think you're great Joy, and admire what you did.

Pseudonymph said...

I think that's a wonderful story. I remember with more affection my great teachers (Thanks Mrs Vink, Mr Tinling, Mrs Dorwood...) even after all these years than I do my 'winning' lawyers from recent times.

Bob said...

What a great poem, Joy.
I'm so glad you posted it. My Dad was a teacher for many years, and this sound slike something he would say. I'm going to copy it and email it off for him, because he did make a goddamn difference!

Jazzy said...

I'm glad you posted this. I love the poem. It is a tribute to all the caring excellent teachers any and all of us have been fortunate enough to have teach us. A caring and good teacher is worth many lawyers and without those teachers most of them would never have seen those 6 or 7 figure salaries and plush offices.