Book Review: What Teachers Make

What Teachers Make: In Praise of the World’s Greatest Job. By Taylor Mali. Penguin-Putnam Publishing. Hardback. 2012. $12

At 197 pages What Teachers Make is short, sweet and to-the-point. Mali has a wide following, having taught in numerous places, with experiences across curriculums and disciplines. He draws from his wide experiences in this brief collection of anecdotes, many humorous, a few serious, and all poignant.

Taylor includes some poetry samples which should be read aloud. I’m a big fan of “spoken word” poetry and Mali has been part of the HBO Def Poetry Jam, a brilliant show.

Taylor Mali on HBO Def Poetry Jam

What Teachers Make is not a salary survey of compensation or benefits. What Teachers Make recounts episodes in Taylor’s teaching career in which he has affected or been affected by students (smart and dying), parents (allies and enemies), and bureaucrats (who should act smarter than they do).

Mali’s book should be read by anyone thinking about a career in Education. Unfortunately, most teacher wannabees have no idea what they are getting into until he or she begins student teaching. When the real scope of teaching is discovered many teachers, almost 50%, resign from teaching after the first 5 yrs. A person must want to not only be a teacher but also understand the incredible demands teaching makes on a person’s life. You will sacrifice time, energy, money, emotions, and a bit of your soul to be a teacher. Teachers spend over $1 billion of their own money to support their classes. And, as Taylor points out, and is well documented, the cost of educating one student per year is 1/2 the cost of incarcerating an adult. In Arizona, for example, the wonderful bastion of tolerance {sarcasm}, studies indicate a child who has failed to read by the 3rd grade will most likely end up in prison.

One idea Taylor presents is putting first year education majors into a real life classroom. Throw them in the pool and see if they can swim, he says. Make them teach something. Take the ones who really want to learn how to educate and help them become better educators. Keep tossing them back in. Why wait until the very end, after 4+ years have been expended, and 5 years thereafter the teacher quits. Better to show them the environment and then spend valuable time on the ones willing and able to learn. I have to admit, I like the idea.

The book will validate many of you who do teach. Having experience as a middle school teacher, Taylor may speak with a familiar voice. Those of you needing some new ideas, or are feelings de-energized by educational politics may also find familiar sentiments.

What Teachers Make are future adults who question, who doubt, who can think on their own, and who can cast a critical eye upon their world.

What Teachers Make would make a nice gift for a teacher as he or she prepares for the 2012-2013 school year.

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