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At the heart of ‘What Teachers Make’ is an emotionally evocative story that lends a great deal of credibility and pride to the noble profession of teaching. The point of this book is to reinforce the idea that teachers are some of the most important people our societies have and are truly gifted in their ability to inspire students. They often spend countless hours teaching our children and yet have only received a fraction of the respect in comparison to higher paying jobs. Taylor Mali’s perspective is one that has been shared with many people all over the world. His ideas return to the forefront the notion that teachers should be universally held in higher regard and that it is a profession every bit as rewarding as others in its own unconventional way.
The principal of his poem and subsequent book ‘What Teachers Make’ discusses the negative judgment of teachers based upon a preconceived notion that they lack logic. It is thought by many working professionals, some who make double or triple the salary of a teacher, that no sane person should want to be a teacher if they suffer this kind of low paying indignity. The next leap in logic following this idea is that teachers are crazy for becoming teachers and therefore lack the ‘logical’ ability to teach.
The book further promotes the idea that though teachers have no legal right to a student’s time after school hours, there is still work to be done¬† in order for a teacher to successfully teach a class even as the student returns home. This may seem a harsh statement to anyone who has made this generalization about teachers before. Yet the amount of time a teacher sees a student is sometimes longer than a student may spend with his or her own parents and so Mali stands behind the idea that teachers also end up being parents, an even greater role than many realize.
The ability to improve a student’s awareness and mental flexibility are some of the goals that Mali highlights, with the inclusion of the thought that teachers aren’t making students into Ivy League ‘wanna be’s’. His goal is to shape his students into thinking evolving human beings capable of questioning authority even as they rise to positions of authority.
The student is the other half of the story. Whether in school or at home, a teacher’s job is to influence the student as much as possible. Mali talks about teachers making phone calls to parents, resulting in an often mixed bag of praise and criticism. His writing expresses clearly that teachers sometimes spend more time with students than the parents of that student. He drives home the idea that a teacher is so influential in a student’s life, especially at a young age, that bad teaching early on dramatically affects the intelligence of the student for the foreseeable future. On the less dramatic side of things, Mali believes that a teacher needs to have a flexible teaching style, since not every student can be taught the same way.
The light bulb moment, for which many of us experience over our lifetime, is that moment of clarity that makes us want to shout our success from the rooftops. Mali observes that while this is a happy moment for the student in all of us, the teachers who observe this moment derive equal joy in the knowledge that they have gotten through to a student.
One more disheartening mention that Mali makes is about the correlation between people in jail and their ability to read above the 3rd grade reading level. In this example he remarks that it is more expensive to send and keep an adult in jail than it is then teach a child to read. Thus, it is said that if you can’t read by the third grade, you are more likely to end up in jail. Fiscally speaking, this is a hard truth aimed at politicians and other policy makers. Mali asserts that so much is unfortunately spent on keeping adults behind bars than is spent educating young children to stay out of trouble.
Throughout all of Mali’s writing, there is a depth of understanding from an old hand at teaching young minds. His final lessons from the book, for they are lessons for readers indeed, speak of children as the most valuable resource on earth. He speaks out against there being a ‘lost generation’, where an entire age group is labeled as a lost cause. Rather, every bit of advice he offers here is meant to convey hope to both teachers and students.
His passion for teaching echoes throughout the pages, even into the¬†acknowledgments¬†as he is equal parts inspiring and dedicated as well as righteously idealistic. Mali speaks from the heart in his belief that our children are the future and that they require the most care and consideration to grow into healthy responsible adults. He wants his students to grow up into people who cannot only teach themselves but teach others as well. This idea, more than any other, seems to be the most rewarding concept in “What a Teacher Makes.” The book is in stores now and ready to inspire an entire new generation of teachers. Taylor Mali’s work has paid off, creating more than one thousand new teachers during his 12 year project. ¬†
Score – 4.5/5 Excellent¬†