Read One Teacher’s Genius Response to the Question “What Do You Make?”

Teacher Taylor Mali's unforgettable, searing retort to a thoughtless question certainly put a dinner companion in his place—and can make the rest of us appreciate the incredible role teachers play in our lives.

pile of pencils
Russ & Reyn for Reader’s DIgest

He says the problem with teachers is

What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life
was to become a teacher?

He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about teachers:

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that it’s also true what they say about lawyers. Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that—asked me to be honest—because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass kicking: If you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.

I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor

and an A- feel like a slap in the face.

How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence.

No, you may not work in groups.

No, you may not ask a question.

Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?

Because you’re bored.

And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:

Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time;
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes; don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,

I make them question.

I make them criticize.

I make them apologize and mean it.

I make them write.

I make them read, read, read.

I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again.

I make them show all their work in math and hide it on their final drafts in English.

I make them understand that if you’ve got this (a brain), then you follow this (a heart), and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:

Teachers make a difference. Now what about you?

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