What Teachers Make?

I know I head further out on the fringe each hour of each day but I’ve always had a problem with the Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make“. I’m sure you’ve seen it on facebook or on some email forward.

Essentially, he’s responding to a jackass at a dinner party who’s criticizing teachers and I’m ok with that but the details of the response anger me. It is most of what I dislike about teaching.

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

Grades. I hate grades.

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:

Such command, such control, such an amazing ability to see another human’s bladder level, all that and instilling fear in parents- how proud we must be of our mastery.

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

Perhaps the saddest line for parents.

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.

This is almost positive other than the fact that ever sentence starts with “I make”.

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.

And I know it’s a poem and I’d give license poetic or otherwise if this wasn’t really an embodiment of how most teaching works. Fear, force, reward, coercion in endless cycles and all, of course, for the best. It is for the children. Their shiftless beasts and will run amuck1 if not forced to do right.

It just seems strange to me. If education really worked well I’d see a different world. I’d see less depression, less poverty, less mindless pursuit of profit . . . I’d see people proudly saying how much school made them realized they loved reading/math/science/history. Far too many people I meet tell me they’re awful at math, hate reading, are no good at science. I don’t believe them but the guilt and lessons are sunk in deep.

Mali could have said I make the very people who don’t recognize the value of teachers at dinner parties.

1 1. A name for: a frenzied Malay. (Found first in Portuguese form amouco, amuco.) – OED etymology

8 thoughts on “What Teachers Make?

  1. Well, for one thing, I think they should make more Art.

    Plus, their students should make more Art, too. Plus, their parents. And their students’ parents, too.

    Everybody make more Art, bub.

    Well, bye.

  2. Luckily, this is not every teacher, and when we think about the teachers that made a difference in our lives, we do not start with “She made me…”

    Be interesting to go back and examine Ken Bain’s *What The Best College Teachers Do* with this lens. Parker Palmer’s *The Courage to Teach* might be more aligned with you.

    1. Britt,

      I agree. Good teachers inspire rather than coerce. What frustrates me is the element of luck in finding those teachers in a system that is often in opposition to the idea of inspiration.

      I worry about structures based on force and the idea that students must be forced to eat their vegetables. Our larger systems seem to assume that all people are bad and young people are especially bad. It really worries me when the heroic stories celebrated by teachers, like this one, are so focused on compulsion and power in ways that I think people gloss over or miss entirely. It impacts how the larger society sees teaching.

      I can also see how my concerns about this stuff are annoying in a variety of ways.

      I am also greedy. I want much more than isolated standout teachers who tend to buck the very system in which they are embedded.

      Clearly, I have a lot to worry about.

  3. Interesting. Hate you point out things I wish I noticed… I think I’ll show this next NTA and then point out what you said… especially the, “I make.” Full credit will go to you!

  4. And they don’t make bumperstickers that say “If you really didn’t learn from history and are about the make the same mistakes of the previous generation – thank a teacher!”

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