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Talking with Taylor Mali + a Giveaway

A review copy of this book was provided by the Penguin Group who is also giving away three copies of this book to three different readers who leave a comment on this post. Details follow after Taylor’s interview.

On a tough day in the classroom, all of us have turned to Taylor Mali‘s poem “What Teachers Make” for some solace.  Last month Taylor published a book, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, which is the kind of book you want to have around when a tough day turns into a tough week.  It’s the kind of pick-me-up all teachers need every now and again.

Taylor was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for him after I finished reading his book.  Take a peek at what he said:

SAS:  Your poem, and now your book, have motivated so many people to want to teach.  What about your message has resonated most with people?

TM:  One of the definitions of poetry that I love is “What oft’ was thought but ne’er so well expressed,” and I think that’s why the poem resonates with so many people. Because it puts into forceful words what they have always secretly wanted to say but couldn’t. At least, I hope that’s it.

SAS:  In the chapter “Making Kids Work Hard,” you stated that the attributes of diligence, cooperation, resilience, flexibility, critical thinking and problem solving are the most important things to impart to children in order to get them to work hard.  You and I both know that most standardized tests do not test for these things.  How do you think the testing system can be revamped to assess students for these skills that they are sure to need in order to thrive in both the workplace and in life?

TM:  I don’t know, but you’re right; standardized tests are a wholly inadequate measure of what really determines a student’s success: creativity, problem solving, discipline, and resilience. I heard about a strange test that simply asks you to list all the things you might do with a brick. The good standardized test takers list five things and think they are done. The more ingenious students have lists that number into the hundreds and contain things like “Use it as a stepping stone for midgets to get onto a cedar deck.” Maybe there are tests out there that measure these things. But then again, maybe we’re obsessed with tests. Maybe there is great value to skills that we do not yet know how to measure. Politicians can’t really say that. Only poets can.

SAS:  On page 88, you provided us with a possible definition for what a teacher should be: “someone who makes learning possible, which often means simply preparing the ground for you to teach yourself.”  How do you think we can make this definition a reality in America’s public schools?

TM:  With great difficulty. I think the conversation is starting about what makes a great teacher. Or starting again. I heard a doctor say that the most challenging and holistic definition of a doctor is “someone who, after you talk to them, you feel better.” I’m essentially saying the same thing for teachers: contact with them increases your capacity and desire to learn. Plain and simple. How do we get there? I don’t really know, but it probably involves trying to emulate on a broad scale the work of a successful few. There are some great new paradigms out there, sometimes happening in charter schools. 

SAS:  You talked about the vicious climate teachers are facing in “Fighting back against the attack on teachers.”  How do you think teachers can truly change the perception that they only work from 8 to 3 and have your summers off?  Is there something more that you think teachers can and should be doing to get the American public to truly understand that teachers work so hard, often at the expense of spending time with their families, on hobbies, or nourishing themselves?

TM:  There’s no doubt teachers could be doing a better job of letting people know just how difficult their jobs are, but the truth is they HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO! Recent movies like “American Teacher” are shedding some light on what really happens in the classroom, but it’s become apparent that if we don’t define who we are, others will do it for us, and get it wrong.

SAS:  In the epilogue of your book you wrote, “Inequalities inherent in the public school system are resegregating our schools and widening the achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.”  Can you expand on what you wrote and share some ways that you think we can level the playing field for all children in the next five years?  (Money being no object, of course.)

TM:  I can try. But know that I am a poet more than an activist. Why can’t we have a law that limits the size of a class in elementary, middle, and high school. I taught English in private schools to classes of less than 20, and it was exhausting but doable. I could stay on top of each student’s progress and make sure that I got their rough drafts submitted in a timely fashion, reviewed & returned, revised and handed in again as a final draft and then graded and commented on. That’s a lot of work. But some public school teachers have 40 students in a class! Maybe even more! With that many students, a teacher almost PRAYS that some kids will never hand in the rough draft. In fact, it’s so hard to get ANYTHING turned in with that many students, what teacher has the time to comment on a rough draft and ask for another revision? We need to limit class sizes across the nation. That’s going to mean sending money from rich suburbs to poor inner city districts and rural areas. That’s a redistribution of wealth & resources, and that sounds . . . socialist! So wish us luck with that.

If you find yourself losing steam as the school year comes to a close and need to reinvigorate yourself as a teacher, then pick up a copy of What Teachers Make.  It will reaffirm all of the incredible work you do with children each and every day you set foot into the classroom.

HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:

  • This giveaway is for three copies of What Teachers Make for three of our readers.  Many for thanks the Penguin Group for sponsoring this giveaway.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy of What Teachers Make each reader may leave one comment about this post in the comments section of this post.  Feel free to share your thoughts about this interview, what you do when you’ve had a tough day in the classroom, or your thoughts on education reform. 
  • All comments left on or before Friday, May 25th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Sunday, May 27th.  
  • I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post on May 27th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Penguin send the book out to you.  Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.

Comments are now closed.  Thank you to everyone who left a comment.

Congratulations to the following three people whose comment numbers were picked using the random number generator

The first copy of What Teachers Make goes to AJF, who wrote:

I woke up this morning thinking about teachers – those already in the profession and those who dream of entering this wonderful profession where we really do make a difference every day by what we do. However, the intermingling of angst about restructuring teacher evaluation processes while simultaneoulsy revamping curriculum and raising levels of achievement were contributing to me being wide awake at a time on Saturday morning when I should have been asleep! Reading this interview was definitely what I needed this morning. It helped me to remember that we (teachers) need to advocate for our profession and be leaders WHILE being inspirations to our students. We guide them through the curriculum and the multiple land mines of life supporting, encouraging and caring. I must admit that I had not heard of the poem (or of his other poems) or his book until I read your interview and did a bit of a Google search a few minutes ago. NO matter what, I guess we need to have this one on the nightstand for both the hard days with the kids and the days when “others” get us down!

The second copy of the book goes to Miranda Kuykendall who commented:

I definitely resonated with Taylor’s comments about large classes. I’ve taught classes of 33 with insufficient numbers of desks, and I’ve taught classes without literature books at my disposal. Guess where this was? Yep – a low-income school. I think something definitely can be done about the issue, but it will require people in authority making hard decisions and forsaking popularity at times.

I love his thoughts about getting kids to think and work HARD. One of my goals this year was to have students work harder than they ever have before, and now that final assessments are rolling in, they are thanking me. It really works. And I’m going to have to try that brick question next week. I love it!

Jackie will receive the final copy of What Teachers Make.  She said:

I appreciate the message in this book. It helps me understand why I am feeling energized about teaching next fall even though I am about to finish one lf the most difficult years I’ve ever had. I guess it’s all about the impact I’ve/we’ve had on the students and the importance of what teachers do.

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

48 thoughts on “Talking with Taylor Mali + a Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. I am eager to read this book. Taylor Mali’s poem is so inspiring and I’m sure his book won’t disappoint. I wish this could be summer reading for the staff of teachers at my school. It seems like it would be an uplifting and refreshing read.

    Like

  2. I heard Taylor Mali years ago and the experience has stayed with me. “What Teachers Make” has gotten me through some tough days. I just discovered your website and it is truly inspiring.
    Thank you.

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  3. I have always loved Taylor Mali’s poem because it’s so positive and inspiring. His words are helpful in motivating people to want to teach, but also in spreading a positive and optimistic outlook towards the profession.

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  4. I love “What Teachers Make” and many other poems by Taylor Mali. So often education is seen as a process of inputs and outputs rather than the organic, messy process of allowing young human beings to test their minds and develop. I’m heading into the last four weeks of school determined to enrich my classroom and go out with a bang instead of a whimper. I want my seventh graders to wake up over summer vacation and miss my classroom.

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  5. I am inspired by this quote about describing a great teacher as “contact with them increases your capacity and desire to learn”. I left teaching to be a stay at home mom and I am now hoping to return to teaching. I would love to read this book.

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  6. Taylor’s story is as inspirational as his poetry. I believe that if we do those things that he advocates and create in our students those qualities needed for success, we don’t need to worry about standardized testing. It will take care of itself. A creative, determined, problem-solving student won’t be deterred by a week of testing; he will shine! Thank you, Taylor Mali, for putting it all into such a lovely book.

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  7. I had to google the poem right away (as I might be the only one who has not heard this before). Listening to it was a treat. Might have to plan a shopping trip to a bookstore if I am not one of the winners…..

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  8. Taylor Mali’s work, What A Teacher Makes, gives me goose flesh. I get the same response whenI see a student makes progress. This great work, on either Mali’s or a student’s behalf, is from exactly what Mali states in his interview. “creativity, problem solving, discipline, and resilience.” Thanks for being a model for teachers and students alike.

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  9. Many comments in the interview resonated with me, especially…”If we don’t define who we are, others will do it for us and get it wrong.” I would love a copy of Taylor Mali’s new book! When school ends on June 29th here, I will begin reading more for pleasure.

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  10. What a breath of fresh air! May can be a very discouraging time of year for teachers–so many meetings, so many assessments, so many details, It can be all too easy to forget why I choose to be a teacher. If I am not a winner, I will buy the book.

    Many years ago at some PD session, one of our principal’s talked about his “blessing box.” He kept notes from students and parents, copies of student work that held special meaning, and newspaper clippings about former students and their successes in life. I bought my own blessing box and have been filling it ever since. On days when discouragement sets in, I pull out a picture that a student drew, a note they wrote, or other piece that reminds me that I do make a difference in the lives of children.

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  11. Great post! Really, there are so many thoughts going on about so many things that I just read. I have not ever heard of the poem before, so I’m going to look it up next. Thanks for sharing.

    What I do when I’m having a tough time…years ago wrote in my journal about when I first interviewed for my job. How there were 1,286 applicants. The whole process of applying and waiting and feeling sick, and getting a call and screaming, etc…re-reading my thoughts really helps me remember the passion I had and how excited and blessed I felt to get this teaching job.

    Another thing I did this year was the Slice of Life Challenge. That was the big reason I did it. Writing everyday for the month of March helped a ton!

    Like

  12. I appreciate the message in this book. It helps me understand why I am feeling energized about teaching next fall even though I am about to finish one lf the most difficult years I’ve ever had. I guess it’s all about the impact I’ve/we’ve had on the students and the importance of what teachers do.

    Like

  13. This interview had some great insight and many thing to think about, such as how to show that a child knows problem solving skills and not just how to be a good test-taker. Reading this has made me excited to read the book. I recently graduated with my elementary education degree. After reading this interview I am even more pumped to begin my teaching career.

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  14. I had no idea that Taylor Mali wrote a book! I want it! Pick ME. I mean, it will be honest and fair… uh. My favorite part of this interview is when Mali says teachers have MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO! Because it is so so so true. I also agree with the fact that if we let others define who we are and what we do, they usually get it wrong. If I don’t win the free book I will definitely be picking up a copy when I come to the States this summer (English books are hard to come by in Asia…!).

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  15. The Taylor Mali poem is a classic. I have shown it to preservice teachers and have them respond to it. It is something I watch about twice a year when my gas tank is running on empty. I am so excited that he has written a book. I can’t wait to read it. He has great ideas, oh how nice it would be if teachers ruled the world!

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  16. My cup of joy is a little low at the end of this year. Once again I may be facing a layoff in a district that hasn’t had to RIF in 30 years. Being fairly new to this district and with deep budget cuts things are a little scary. I hope this book can give me hope in more ways than one.

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  17. For our staff development day on our first day back this term, our principal showed the youtube version of Taylor Mali giving it stick with his poem “What Teachers Make…”. It was inspirational and as he says in this interview “what everyone thinks is what he has put into words in a very powerful way”. It’s people like Taylor we need in our pd days, and through classic comedy and drama he is able to let the general public in on just how important our job is! Thank you, Taylor!

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  18. When my charter school was founded, it was committed to very reasonable class size and a downplay of testing preparation. But as the economy has changed, so has our ability to honor our original vision and commitments. I want to read Mali’s book to frame my thoughts and revamp my Open House discussion, as rrisable mentioned.

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  19. Here in Missouri our legislature, at the last minute, turned back a bill supported by an outside group, Students First (Michelle Rhee’s rhetoric) that would have raised tenure among other attacks on teachers. We, me especially, as a profession need to find ways to speak out and create awareness of what we truly do.

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  20. I couldn’t agree more! We teachers absolutely need to do more Public Relations for our profession. I am planning a very different conversation at my Meet the Teacher night in September! Thank you for this thought provoking piece.

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  21. I woke up this morning thinking about teachers – those already in the profession and those who dream of entering this wonderful profession where we really do make a difference every day by what we do. However, the intermingling of angst about restructuring teacher evaluation processes while simultaneoulsy revamping curriculum and raising levels of achievement were contributing to me being wide awake at a time on Saturday morning when I should have been asleep! Reading this interview was definitely what I needed this morning. It helped me to remember that we (teachers) need to advocate for our profession and be leaders WHILE being inspirations to our students. We guide them through the curriculum and the multiple land mines of life supporting, encouraging and caring. I must admit that I had not heard of the poem (or of his other poems) or his book until I read your interview and did a bit of a Google search a few minutes ago. NO matter what, I guess we need to have this one on the nightstand for both the hard days with the kids and the days when “others” get us down!

    Like

  22. A friend of mine was lucky enough to hear Taylor Mali speak in person. I am glad there is now a book to sum up his ideas.

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  23. It’s inspiring to hear that others, like Taylor Mali, are speaking up for teachers, but I agree that we too need to step forward & be the leaders of our profession too. I teach in a school that limits class sizes & it does make a difference. Thanks for the great interview too, Stacey!

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  24. Definitely a tough time of year – this would be a great pick-me-up! I would love, love, love smaller class sizes for the same reasons stated above – meeting with all kids individually and consistently. Somehow, it’s always being thrown in my face that research shows what matters more than class size is good teaching. A good teacher is good no matter what. I really want to see that research.

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  25. Thanks so much for sharing this! I love this poem but never knew there was a related book! I’ll definitely need to check it out, since I’m feeling pretty worn out right now! I also loved his comment about the class sizes; I can’t believe people can’t understand how important that is!

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  26. I don’t know if the public will ever truly understand the work that goes into being a child’s teacher. As a business man once told me, “Teachers don’t produce anything, thus this is why you don’t make that much money”. Really? We don’t produce anything? How about producing the future? That doesn’t count? I love Taylor’s poem and looking forward to reading his book!

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  27. I love the poem, and I’m looking forward to reading the book. As one who is nearing the end of my career, I still love it, and I still make a difference! I want to share that love with my two daughters, just beginning their career. They need to know that it is all worth it in the end!

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  28. We are in the home stretch…I just finished helping all my first grade teachers finish up their DRA2 on their 33 children in a class. With numbers this high…we need a year without assessing the lights right out of the kids. We are in this cycle of test for 2 weeks, teach for 2…test for 2, teach for two. This has to stop. Our country has hard choices to make with education- in our district our families are being asked to pay for full day kindergarten…so basically the rich are getting richer and the poor are suffering. I hope that I can get a copy of this book. Right now I need the energy back that only a poet can give. xo nanc

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  29. I love Taylor! I heard him speak at UVM in November and felt invigorated, appreciated and understood. Teachers are so undervalued, in part because many people judge us by what we earn. I teach because I can’t imagine changing so many lives in any other profession! I looke forward to reading a book about the difference that we make in students lives.

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  30. Teachers are criticized for many things, but the bottom line is that we love to work with kids. I don’t think there is any job more important than educating our children. I work with at-risk kids, and some days are difficult and discouraging, but each day is a new challenge. That is why we do it.

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  31. I’ve never read this book, nor had I ever heard of it before today. I am 24 years old and just about to wrap up my first year of full-time teaching. Sometimes I talk to more experienced teachers (for example both of my parents who have each been at it for over 30 years) and wonder how they’ve maintained their energy as passion for such an exhausting profession or so long. Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love what I do, but the mental, emotional, and even physical toll can be so overwhelming at times that it’s hard to sleep at night.
    Today I was speaking with a group of primary-aged students about my favorite book “Where The Wild Things Are” and the recent passing of Maurice Sendak. It seemed appropriate to talk about loss as one of the school’s long-time bus drivers lost his battle with cancer this week. Some of the children began to share their own personal stories about losing a loved one, but one boy’s grade 1 boy’s words struck me so deeply that I could feel tears welling in my eyes right there in the classroom:
    “My nanny died. She used to be my neighbor.”
    “I can only imagine how sad you nut have been when that happened, but I’ll bet you have lots of wonderful memories to keep in your heart.”
    “I try to, but sometimes they get away from me. So I have to go and find them in the woods. And sometimes I find them in the attic.”
    Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to keep it alive, you have to go searching for your passion. You have to find creative ways to remember exactly why you have chosen this incredibly unique and, a times, grueling profession.
    Today a grade one boy showed me that you don’t have to feel guilty in those moments where you begin to forget, you just have to never stop looking… Even if you have to venture to the woods or the attic. Today that same grade one boy reminded me not only of what teachers make, but of what our students make of us.

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  32. I saw Taylor recite his poetry at a Learning Forward conference a few years back. It was fabulous. I can’t read his poetry without hearing his voice- a great reward.

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  33. I want to read this! Sounds like just what the doctor ordered on a Friday in May when things are getting pretty tough. I found the comment about distribution of funds very relevant. Even within a district there can be great disparity between what resources schools have. It doesn’t help with closing the gap.

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  34. With one week left of school, I am already thinking about next year – pd this summer, online classes, curriculum planning, reading, studying standards…the list is endless. I can’t wait to pick up this book, too.

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  35. I was introduced to Mr Mali in one of my first education classes. “What Teachers Make” really helped solidify my desire to become a teacher. I completely agree with what Mali says about “diligence, cooperation, resilience, flexibility, critical thinking and problem solving” being the most important things for children to learn. I would only add ‘creativity’ to this list, but I guess flexibilty and problem solving are aspects of creative thinking. Great interview!

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  36. It is no wonder students have a hard maintaining their stamina this time of year, particularly when teachers model fatigue coupled with a touch of hopelessness. It is refreshing that there are encouraging words from Taylor Mali to spur us on in our daily endeavors to inspire and nurture young minds.

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  37. Help! I am losing steam and so are my kids! This sounds like a great book to read to reinvigorate myself and to have the stamina to reinvigorate my class!

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  38. Testing and obsession over testing is taking the creativity out of teaching and ultimately harming our students. There are no easy answers, I agree. But I wish more people thought like poets and not like politicians. I like to think of myself as the coach on the sidelines of learning “preparing the ground.” Thanks for the encouraging interview.

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  39. I definitely resonated with Taylor’s comments about large classes. I’ve taught classes of 33 with insufficient numbers of desks, and I’ve taught classes without literature books at my disposal. Guess where this was? Yep – a low-income school. I think something definitely can be done about the issue, but it will require people in authority making hard decisions and forsaking popularity at times.

    I love his thoughts about getting kids to think and work HARD. One of my goals this year was to have students work harder than they ever have before, and now that final assessments are rolling in, they are thanking me. It really works. And I’m going to have to try that brick question next week. I love it!

    Like

  40. “In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World”- what wonderful words to hear about teaching. So many of us believe that, in spite of everything being put out there to the contrary these days!

    “If we don’t define who we are, others will do it for us, and get it wrong.” I recently had a conversation about this with a friend and fellow teacher. It is so true…more and more is being said and done that takes away from teaching being seen as a profession.

    Like

  41. I love, What Learning Leaves, so I’m excited to reading this new work of prose that Taylor Mali has written. Teaching IS a great job and it feels like a spiritual undertaking as well, helping students understand and create their world. Thanks for this post!

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