What do teachers make? A difference!

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This is a powerful video that has been making the circuit among teachers for several years.  It captures the passion it takes to teach, and the essence of why it matters so much more than almost anything else.

Twelve years ago when Taylor Mali (of National Poetry Slam fame) first wrote this “poem” (which appears in full below) – and performed it so well on the stage, there really was a fairly longstanding lack of appreciation for teaching among many in society – he struck a chord.  While there still are, and always will be, people who don’t appreciate or understand the teaching profession, that has changed for the better, and continues to do so.   But in the last 18 months, there has been a big spike in union-led charges of  “teacher bashing reformers” – but this is untrue.  When reformers point out the fact that teacher effectiveness varies widely (which it does), but is not measured or used as part of evaluation (which it is not in any real sense), and that children are the losers (which tragically, they are), that is not teacher bashing.   It is instead a recognition that teachers make the difference.  It’s ALL about teaching – quality teaching.  The existence of large (and growing!) numbers of highly effective teachers even in the most challenging classrooms proves not only that it’s possible to expect effectiveness on a large scale basis – but it confirms just how important teachers are!

When reformers talk about “teacher quality” and “teacher effectiveness”, they are acknowledging that the teacher is the most important factor in student learning – period.   Fortunately, the intentional recasting of these factual and crucial problems in teaching is failing to get traction – one reason is that the traditional protector of unions has been the Democratic Party, which is now led by a President and Secretary of Education who are as committed to education reform as anyone.  That’s been disorienting for the unions, and very gratifying for those of us who believe education isn’t Democratic or Republican – it shouldn’t be political at all.

In a sense, the profession, and the education system as a whole, caused the gradual loss of respect that occurred over the past several decades, as the makeup of the teaching profession changed (in large part due to the increasing availability of jobs for educated women, among other reasons), and the challenges teachers had to be prepared for increased at the same time.  Fortunately, I believe the teaching profession and educational system is finally making meaningful changes that go to core of what it’s all about – a no excuses attitude that virtually all children can learn, despite the challenges of today’s world.

Teachers today deal with so much more than they ever have before, and society expects far more from teachers than it ever has.  This is hard on teachers, and hard on the existing system, but it’s reality.  We all owe such a debt of gratitude to those who have committed their careers to teaching so that tomorrow’s society can be better than today’s.

Taylor has it right – what do teachers make?  Teachers make a difference.


Here is the text of this fantastic poem:

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, you¹re 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?

Read more of Harvin Moore at http://harvinmoore.com

About Harvin Moore

Harvin C. Moore has volunteered in public education since 1989 when he began tutoring in New York City's East Harlem Tutorial Program, and later in Houston with Communities in Schools. Harvin joined the original board of the KIPP Academy in 1996 and served as Treasurer and Vice Chairman as it began its national expansion. From a desire to broaden the effect of education reform to more children who desperately need it, he ran for and was elected to the Houston Independent School District Board of Education in 2003, where he has served for three terms and as President in 2008. Harvin is an executive in the aerospace industry, where he first worked as a college intern on the launch crew of the first privately funded rocket to reach outer space in 1982. He contends that school reform is not rocket science. He also contends they are both hard work. Harvin publishes The Transformation Times, a blog centered on public education reform issues, at http://www.harvinmoore.com, and tweets @harvinmoore.