What Teachers Make

I can’t imagine that there is anyone in America who hasn’t seen Taylor Mali’s video rant.

But just in case, here it is again, in a different version.

Because it really is true.

What do you think about this piece of free-verse performance art? Does it make you think of any particular teacher? Care to share? And if you are a teacher, which part do you relate to most?

And what exactly do they say about lawyers? 😉

35 thoughts on “What Teachers Make

  1. I see the point he’s trying to make but I really don’t like his tone. Not really the spirit of partnership I would hope to see in a teacher. Parents shouldn’t “be afraid” of a teacher calling and if my kid says he has to go to the bathroom, you damn well better let him go. If he’s so bored that he’d rather be in a bathroom than the class, maybe that’s a better use of his time.

    1. Michalene:

      In the late 1980s, I taught at an urban school where kids were “going to the bathroom” to use their pagers to make drug deals. Everyone knew this. One day, I stood up to a student and told him, “No, you may not go to the bathroom because I think we both know you don’t need to go. Right?”

      Mali’s tone may be a bit terse, but it is something teachers – especially teachers in an urban setting – understand. That said, there is always a delicate balance between power and partnership between students and teachers in the classroom. There are so many of them – and we are so very outnumbered; teachers have to establish these kinds of understandings early, lest we burn out quickly.

      By the way, sometimes kids ask to go to the bathroom because the material is difficult, and they want to avoid the discomfort of it. I wouldn’t want a struggling student to miss class. Avoidance is rarely in a student’s best interest. Sometimes students plan to meet friends from other classes in the bathroom at a particular time where they hang out and proceed to get into trouble.

      So you might not like Mali’s tone – but I can tell you with one semester short of twenty years under my belt – sometimes teachers know what they are talking about. 😉

    2. I teach in elementary, and although I generally let kids go to the bathroom in class, they are only ever allowed to go one at a time and not in the middle of instructions of the next task or assembly. I find if they go a couple at a time they start being silly. By the time they are 5 most children are quite capable of waiting the 5 or 10 minutes required.

  2. Loved his passion. I must have taught over 20,000 kids in 34 years. Also worked adult ed as well.The ones that came by and who I see around town tell me they remember me and that I was cool and made a difference. When I am called home at the end of life my maker will see a life well spent. I contributed more to civilization than Caesar or Napoleon. That’s what I made. Since 90% of my students were Black, I was also part of a civil rights movement to elevate people and make them functionally literate enough to take advantage of opportunity and prepared many for college by teaching how to write that critical essay. My first group of kids are now 50 years old with grandchildren.

  3. I wonder about the rest of the kids who really do have to go to the bathroom. Or who have to sit through the “bathroom” speech everyday during their classes. Forcing a kid to sit in a class is “leading them to water”. Intimidation is an effective tool for crowd control but I wonder how that translates into learning for kids who do not need to be intimidated. You control the loud ones but what about the rest? They don’t deserve to be treated like prisoners.

    In the experience I had in my kids’ classrooms, of 22-24 students there were 3-4 that took 50% of the teacher’s attention consistently (for various reasons). This was elementary school, I don’t know how that plays out at the high school level. I’m sure there are some schools where my approach wouldn’t be practical.

    1. I think that’s the difference right there. Hopefully kids in elementary school aren’t making drug deals in the bathroom. High school students may.

      Also, asking a high school student to “hold it” for 40 minutes isn’t a big deal. An elementary student is a different story.

    2. I think this “bathroom joke” is more about setting the tone early in the year, and I think it is more true for secondary students than the younguns who (in general) still want to please their teachers.

      I have taught in private and public schools, urban and suburban settings. It is always the kids’ job to push the boundaries. In an academic setting, in my opinion, it is the teachers’ job to remind students (politely – and preferably with humor) of where those boundaries lie.

      Fortunately for me, I have rarely had trouble with student rapport. It has been a blessing which I have counted for many years. And I continue to have ongoing “relationships,” both online and in real-life with former students that reinforces to me the idea that I must be doing something right. After all, once they are done with me, why stay in touch? There are no grades. What’s the incentive to remain connected unless we value each other?

      I am not about intimidation. But I am about knowing things. Teaching is a lot like parenting. You have to know each student. You have to know who really needs to go to the bathroom and who is really leaving to go and smoke. Or cut. Or cry. You have to be very intuitive. You have to see inside them. You have to find them endlessly fascinating. Honestly, the way I feel about some of my former students is not far off from the way I feel about my own son. I am proud when they succeed. I am there when they are struggling.

      And I would argue that teachers who allow folks to dominate 50% of class time weren’t doing something right. Just sayin’. 😉

  4. That reminds me of my dad. He teaches alternative learning for high school kids in danger of dropping out (or former drop outs who come back to school). He’s taken drug dealers and made nurses, pot heads to auto mechanics, drop outs to college graduates, etc, etc, etc. He’s honestly, the best teacher I’ve ever seen. The miracles he’s pulled with his students are amazing. I used to work with him as his in-class tutor. It was quite an honor to do so. I know he’s taught me to use my teaching ability at every opportunity.

    No, I’m not a teacher (and neither was my dad at 31), however, I do know what it takes. I have a few classes to finish before I can teach. I hope to one day take over his program when he retires.

      1. I would love to teach geology / earth science (or physical science since many schools have dropped earth science) most likely at the high school level. For the moment, I’ve put this on the WAY back burner. It’s always there simmering in the back of my mind, however, at the moment other things come first. Such as my kids. I’m coaching my oldest’s soccer team, helping with my youngest’s as much as possible, and participating in boy and girl scout activities.

        Renee, I’d love to write a blog post about it, however, I haven’t taken a class in 7 years (EEK!). If you’d want me to write about my burning desire to someday, somehow teach people, I’d be glad to. Just don’t expect perfect grammar. I ain’t no English major, yo. Gosh that’s terrible, I don’t write or talk like that. What’s wrong with me?!?!?!

  5. I love it! It makes me think of my 10th grade English teacher who never let me get lazy, never made me so bored that I’d ask to go to the bathroom, and made me see that the simple tweaking of words can create something beautiful.

    It also reminded me that, as a teacher, my words and actions wielded great power, and that even the smallest of routines in the classroom can make a difference. Last year, I was at Home Depot, picking out paint, when a young lady in their familiar orange smock tapped me on the shoulder. She asked me if I remembered her. That question is always a tough one because some people physically change a great deal from the age of nine to adulthood. After a moment, I did recognized her. She had been a very timid little girl, who had difficulty reading. I hugged her and asked her how she had been. She told me she was married and had two little girls, and then she asked me, “Do you remember the “Little House” books that you read everyday after recess?” Just as my own 4th grade teacher had done, I read the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books over the course of the the school year. She went on to tell me that when she was pregnant with her first daughter she had bought the set, to read to her once she was old enough, because hearing them from me had meant so much to her as a child. Did I get teary-eyed in Home Depot? Yes, I did! Did knowing that a little girl, whose mother probably didn’t read to her, had grown up to be a mother who read nightly to her own children make me feel like a million bucks? Absolutely!

    Thanks for posting this :)!

    1. What a great experience for you! Don’t you love those teachers? And now you’ve gone and become one!

      I remember writing a poem in 11th grade and my teacher, Mrs. Landfear, got really worried about me. I’m sure the themes were dark and dramatic. She called me in to make sure I was okay, that I wasn’t contemplating hurting myself. I had just broken up with a boyfriend, and I was genuinely touched that my poem even registered enough with her so that she thought to call me in.

      I never forgot that moment.

      I try really hard to meet with students outside of class. One on one.

      That time mattered to me; I assume it still matters.

      At the end of the day, teaching is really about the rapport between teacher and student, about the materials the teacher selects and how he or she helps the students make connections to their students’ lives. If you love your material and you love and respect your students, people will always come up to you in Home Depot! 🙂

  6. What ever happened on the way from the fifties to today? We used to go to school with a white shirt and a red tie for Tuesday assembly. No one ever told a teacher to go fuck him or herself or show any disrespect of any kind. School was serious, even in the lower grades. You needed a pass to go to the bathroom and you rushed right back (after hopefully washing your hands). The only “dope” I was aware of was one hopeless kid with a room temperature IQ.

    How did we go so wrong? (and my school was in Manhattan and decidedly “urban”)

  7. Of course I have seen this. And I’m a teacher. And it still gives me goosebumps.

    Every time.

    I loved this version.


    But now I really just want to hear where you think it started to fall apart – historically speaking…

  8. I just saw this in the last month…it was posted on another blog I follow…powerful stuff! I have great respect for anyone who can put up with someone else’s kids all day, and actually teach them something!


  9. Where did things start to fall apart? So many thoughts rattling around in my head…

    Does it matter where?
    Where might tell us
    how to get back
    on track
    but things are falling
    and children are hurt
    and they
    and their parents don’t know
    aren’t aware
    don’t know enough to care

    Does it matter where?
    I think not
    We are here
    not there
    not back when and where
    Start picking up bricks
    hard hats for us and our kids’
    Learning’s hard
    Left behind, harder

  10. Teachers make a difference – full stop. That’s it. So clear. So true. It’s not that they make parents fear them. It has nothing to do with the bathroom. It has everything to do with making a difference. Who among us remembers the teachers who were impactful in our lives every step along the way to who we are today. I know I do. And there it is. The difference. That’s success. That’s what they make.

    1. I remember six teachers specifically from my high school career. Two bad (to my eyes, ears, and brain), three AWESOME, and one indifferent when I had him as a freshman, and awesome as a senior.

      Maybe I’ll save the stories just in case Renee actually, really, really, really wants me to write a blog post about wanting to be a teacher, and the influences on that want / need…

    Brilliant. Profound. Exquisite.
    This clip moved me from my seat and made the hair on the back of my neck rise up.
    Popping in from Lady Bloggers Society.
    So happy I did.

  12. I like this video a lot. I have a few teachers that this video makes me think of. I also know of a few that I would like to send this video to in the hopes that it might reignite their passion for teaching. 🙂

  13. Great version of this. Like many teacher movies, though, it makes me feel the urgency of needing to be better.

    To be more relevant, to make students stand straighter, to listen to the silent ones.

    This is a good thing.

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