Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” book is a winner

Taylor Mali’s brilliant performance poem “What Teachers Make” has over 3.8 million views on YouTube. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a must-see.

Mali, a former teacher and now full-time globe-trotting poet/advocate/recruiter for the teaching profession, has followed up his most successful poem with a book of the same title.  I read it in 2 sittings and it made me feel great— it’s a highly recommended “just-cause” or end-of-year gift for a teacher in your life.

The small, novelty-sized hardcover is broken into 26 vignettes, with several of Mali’s poems mixed in. The book has heart and Mali’s love of teaching shines through. What elevates What Teachers Make above the next paean to teachers on the shelf is Mali’s irreverence and a keen ability to tell big stories with short word counts. He also gave me a few ideas for tweaks in my own classroom, most notably in the chapter titled “No One Leaves My Class Early For Any Reason.” I do need to tighten up about that.

What Teachers Make is filled with enjoyable anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom. It’s a light, recommended read. Here’s one epitomizing pearl to from the first chapter, ”Making Kids Work Hard”:

“[Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger asked an aide to produce a report. The aide submitted his report, but it was returned to him later that afternoon with a note from Kissinger that said: “I’m sorry. This is not good enough.” The aide felt like he’d been busted because he knew Kissinger was right. He made the report significantly better and re-submitted it, but it came back again with a similar note: “This is still not nearly good enough.” Now the aide was scared! He canceled his plans for the evening and stayed up all night working on the report. He caught careless errors he hadn’t seen before and added a section of analysis that tied the whole thing together. He felt he had done his absolute best, so instead of just submitting the report as he had done twice before, he made an appointment to deliver the report to Kissinger personally. “Mr. Secretary,” he said, “I have written this report three times and twice you have sent it back saying it was not good enough. Sir, what I am handing you no is the absolute best I can do, so if it is still not good enough, then I am not the right person for the job.” Kissinger thanked him, smiled, and took the report, adding, “Excellent. This time I will actually read it.”

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