Guest post by Rebecca Forbes, Grants & Contracts Assistant, TASC
Some years ago, the story goes, Taylor Mali, then a teacher, was at a dinner party when a fellow guest snidely asked, “What do you make?” This provoking remark led to Mali’s poem “What Teachers Make,” now viewed millions of times online and at his performances. Today, Mali travels the world, teaching poetry and talking about the valuable, noble work of teaching. And now, the poem and its movement have grown into his new book of the same name, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, out today.
The poem turned that short-sighted question on its head, highlighting the intangible, yet crucial value of educators: they make a difference. In moving, passionate prose, the book expounds on this truism, as Mali relates several stories from his years-long experience as proof. The young boy who finally pieces together the meaning of the Zero Product Property. The moment a group of his students realizes the fluidity of language. The history class who learns the ingenuity of ancient Greek shields by making their own. (Project-based learning figures heavily in the book, as it did in Mali’s classroom; the descriptions of these assignments alone are enough to make this grown-up green with envy.) And there are the life lessons: focus, respect, critical thinking, conviction, courage.
Though Mali’s stories may take place within the four walls of his classroom, the lessons he learns about engaging kids and finding those “aha!” moments are applicable to any educator, in or out of the traditional school day. In bringing the very act of learning to life—the curiosity, the comprehension, the mastery—Mali illustrates that teaching, and learning, is ever-present and forever.