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  • A.K. Lee

Book Review| What Teachers Make

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

You know this poem.

'What Teachers Make', by Taylor Mali

There are few things that get me on a good rant than teaching, and Taylor Mali's book that grew from this poem covers nearly all my complaints, save for a few Singapore-specific concerns. Teachers around the world share similar concerns, because our core beliefs are the same. At least, for those of us who care about educating the future generation.

We believe that teaching is one of the most important professions in the world, because we are shaping minds and hearts. We don't build skyscrapers, but we help their imaginations soar. We don't bring millions of dollars into our bank accounts, but what we teach - if we teach them well - will affect generations to come.

Like all good teachers, Mali states his points clearly, illustrates his ideas with examples, and leaves just enough of a gap for readers to fill in on their own and learn.

One of my favorite chapters is titled, In Praise of Thoughtful Uncertainty. Here, Mali shares why it is important to inculcate healthy skepticism, to encourage critical thought, particularly in this time when information comes at us in a non-stop barrage and the concept of a news cycle is laughable.

I teach teenagers. Having this book reminds me of what I strive to do, what I have always wanted to achieve through my lessons, my teaching material, and the way I live. What I write. What I say. The way I exist, in my space. How I interact with people who are different from me. How I interact with people who seek to invalidate me and my opinions.

I believe that the best way teachers do not just help students pass exams and tests. I believe the best teachers show students that courage, compassion, creativity, and community are essential to living life right.

At the risk of using a cliché, I must say that teaching is not just a job, it is a calling. Anyone who has ever been a teacher and given their heart to the profession knows that you don't stop being a teacher when the bell rings at the end of the day. We who have taught will teach forever.

The book itself is very small and makes the perfect gift for any person who has taught, is teaching, or is contemplating joining the teaching profession. I highly recommend it.

There are too many lovely, simply-worded and eloquent passages in the book to share. Instead, allow me to share another poem by Mali:

I'll Fight You for the Library, by Taylor Mali

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