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Inspirational teacher poem: Taylor Mali on what teachers make

Taylor Mali is a high school teacher, and a slam poet. His poems are in praise of teaching, and are powerful, inspirational, and motivating. What makes a teacher? What makes a good teacher? What makes a great teacher? Passion! There needs to be passion in the teacher, passion in the students, passion in the classroom environment, for an effective result. I think that Taylor’s poems are an inspirational gift to both teachers and students, trying to excel through their education career.

One of Taylor Mali’s most popular works is a teacher appreciation poem – What Teachers Make, fully titled: “What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school”. It starts off talking about teacher salary, but quickly shifts to what teachers make, not how much. And while the poem is a fascinating read, I feel it is even more powerful when heard, as in the following video.

Go ahead and watch the video, it is only 3 minutes long and is well worth its time. Then come back and read the quote of the ending part again.

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?

All of this is completely in sync with my philosophy on life, and the first of 9 rules: 1. Love what you do. 2. Never stop learning. With knowledge in your mind, and passion in your heart – your limits are what you let them be.

So I do want to make a goddamn difference. Becoming a teacher is not too far fetched of an option. One does not need a PhD, or years of teacher’s college (although both certainly help with accreditation). In our hyperactive communication environment of Web 2.0, one simply needs a forum, or a blog, or any other medium to reach a global audience. I just hope someone listens. Thank you.

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  1. Posted by Clayton | February 26, 2007, 9:32 pm

    That was truly an inspiring speech. It makes me realize that teaching is definitely a career option for myself. It also follows my beliefs in life of never giving up and believing in what you do. I believe I have heard this poem from somewhere before.

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by wtd | February 28, 2007, 4:25 pm

    Very nice.

    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Vanessa | March 21, 2007, 3:04 pm

    I like your website

    Reply to comment

  4. Posted by Susan Hillyard | June 14, 2007, 7:39 am

    I got your speech from a student of mine on an on-line course I’m teaching. Actually it’s the second one she’s participated in and we were “chatting” about how I can show my class of teachers how to be MEAN with students. I live and teach in Argentina although I’m a Scouser from Liverpool and the teachers here are extremely NICE to their students . This results in a certain mediocrity which fits perfectly with this “light” society but where students could be really great. I get highly criticised for putting on the pressure “definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful” but I know what I make and so do the students who walk out of school with their heads held high, their roots deep down and their wings ready to fly.
    I will be showing what you make to many teachers when I do my training courses. Thank you for making it!

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  5. Posted by Cathy | August 18, 2007, 9:12 pm

    I teach ESE (special ed) students. My philosophy is that I want to make a difference. It is often hard to fight the battle for these children. But I will continue. Thanks for the inspiration as school starts Monday:)

    Reply to comment

  6. Posted by Lori | August 20, 2007, 10:35 pm

    For those who critisize and make fun of people who choose teaching as a profession just ask them where would they be if they had no teachers to teach them when they were growing up. Teaching is very difficult these days because of all the curriculum changes and interference of the government and the emphasis on FCAT and other tests. Trying to be creative and passion filled with all the rules and regulations is indeed a challenge along with putting up with principals who are on a power trip. Teachers deserve all the admiration and respect they can receive.

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  7. Posted by tes | October 6, 2007, 8:13 pm

    I am also a teacher and its very heartwarming to know that there are still people of this generation who still appreciate us. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

    Reply to comment

  8. Posted by Adri | December 10, 2007, 7:44 pm

    I love this poem and was thinking about using this in my Jr. Class work portfolio [I'm doing it on being a secondary biology education major] untill I got to the finger/god damn part. :)

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  9. Posted by Sherri | May 8, 2009, 7:34 pm

    I attended my sister’s graduation and the keynote speaker recited this poem. I couldn’t wait to get to my computer to print out the actual poem. After I read the poem, I cried. I am a teacher and it is nice to know SOMEBODY understands my pain. However, I love teaching and I know I am making a difference. Teaching is NOT a career you pursue for money. It is a career you pursue to help others while helping yourself. It is very rewarding when my students come back to me and tell me that they understood the things I would preach and that they GOT IT! Thank you Taylor Mali for reminding me…..I’m okay!

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