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Taylor Mali on the truth about “what teachers make”

The inferno of busyness that has overtaken my life in the past few weeks has abated somewhat, although various fires are still still burning all around. So here’s another interim item for your amusement and edification while I continue the emergency cleanup.

The following video seems particularly appropriate to share right now, since all around America the summer break from school is presently in full swing. In this piece you’ll see, hear, and experience Taylor Mali, “one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement and one of the few people in the world to have no job other than that of poet,” delivering what’s probably the most powerful recorded performance of his now-famous poem “What Teachers Make.” It’s an inspired (and carefully crafted) rant that literally sends chills up the spine with its flat-out annihilation, on a level rivaling the holy terror of a fiery-eyed biblical prophet, of the fatuous assumption that kids can’t learn anything valuable “from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher,” because, you know, what do teachers actually make?

So this is for teachers everywhere, especially those who toil away in public schools the way I used to do, but who are currently enjoying a well-earned breather. No matter that the system itself is largely broken and deserving of the criticisms that are heaped upon it. A large percentage of the people who work it in do so out of an authentic sense of calling and vocation, and far too often, like Rodney Dangerfield, they don’t get no respect.

Let the delicate-minded among you be advised that there’s a bit of mild profanity in what you’re about to watch. There are several different versions on YouTube showing Mali performing the poem in different venues on different occasions, and some of them qualify as G or PG for language. But this one is PG-13. It’s the preferred version for its flat-out potency.


“Let me break it down for you so you know what I say is true:

I make a goddamned difference. Now what about you?”