musings

on making

This Atlantic article examines tech culture’s celebration of creation (often at the expense of teaching and caretaking). It delves into how society values the traditionally male domain of “making” and devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving (e.g., teaching, healthcare). Before I finished reading the first sentence, I immediately thought of What Teachers Make, a poem by Taylor Mali.

What Teachers Make
by Taylor Mali

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 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,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

I often feel that teachers have to defend or justify the rigor and validity of what we make and do. What we make can’t be sold, but it’s pretty awesome.Good teachers do follow the design process when creating and refining their curriculum. Creating complex math tasks or guiding students into mathematical discourse do not get featured on the cover of Wired magazine. Just because these educational things weren’t born out of Mountain Dew-fueled coding rampages and didn’t have an IPO of $1 billion doesn’t make them any less “made.”

Similarly, arts and crafts don’t get the same level of respect as robots or other technological “made” things. Case in point: back in engineering school, fellow engineering majors would scoff at those in the College of Arts and Sciences, calling it the College of Arts and Crafts. But don’t arts include design, iteration, and planning of resources? My mother-in-law probably wouldn’t consider herself a maker, but she makes some amazing Halloween costumes. Her process of research, design, locating materials, and creating is pretty spot-on.

halloweencostumes

So what will it take for us to “recognize the work of the educators, those that analyze and characterize and critique, everyone who fixes things, all the other people who do valuable work with and for others—above all, the caregivers—whose work isn’t about something you can put in a box and sell”?

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