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Objection Overruled," Or
"You Can Always Go to Law School
If Things Dont Work Out


By Taylor Mali


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We've all been there. Having managed to wrest a few precious hours from endless evenings and weekends spent grading papers, preparing lessons, decorating bulletin boards, writing report cards, contacting parents, shopping for supplies, or updating the classroom Web site, you are quietly enjoying a rare social event, when rising above the casual chatter you hear...the Voice. Whats a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher? the Voice demands. "Those who can, do; those who cant, teach." How do you respond? Perhaps with the words of "Objection overruled, or You can always go to law school if things dont work out" by Taylor Mali.


He says the problem with teachers is, Whats 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 its true what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who cant, teach.


Taylor Mali, a former middle and high school teacher, is a professional performance poet and the winner of four national poetry slam championships. In addition to numerous poetry readings, Mali has produced two CDs and written several books of poetry. His works include What Learning Leaves, "a collection of poems about teaching, love, and dogs."

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I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that its also true what they say about lawyers.

Because were eating, after all, and this is polite company.

I mean, youre a teacher, Taylor, he says.
Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadnt done that (asked me to be honest) because, you see, I have a policy about honesty and ass-kicking: if you ask for it, 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 wont I let you get a drink of water? Because youre not thirsty, youre bored, thats why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home: I hope I havent called at a bad time, I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today. Billy said, Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, dont you? And it 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 got this (brains) then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Poem by Taylor Mali, reprinted with permission
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 10/29/2002; updated 05/11/09

The opinions expressed in StarrPoints are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Education World.