POET: Taylor Mali
PIECE: What Teachers Make
TOPICS DISCUSSED:
Education
SUMMARY:
An elementary school teacher reminds others EXACTLY what he does for a living.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase
Discussion

“I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A­- feel like a slap in the face.”

While this poem reminds us of the inspirational teachers that have impacted our lives, Mali actually gives a glimpse into the agency teachers employ to socialize kids. This piece lays out the hidden curriculum from the perspective of a teacher, to reveal the role of a teacher seldom discussed outside of the education. That Mali reveals this perspective at a dinner party with guests of different occupations, contextualizes this poem both in and outside of education. It becomes a discussion of status, roles, and values in our society.

Full Transcript of Poem

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 conversation.

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 this policy 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.
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 grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was 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.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
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’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

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?

(http://www.taylormali.com/poems-online/what-teachers-make)
Mali. Taylor. “What Teachers Make.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Resources
Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

Artist Comments

This space is reserved for any comments the author of the piece may have about the points he was trying to get across and the background of why he wrote the poem.