Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"What a Teacher Makes" - Taylor Mali, 2007, Def Poetry. Throwback

Because it's April and I'm on a three-day focus on poetry with my posts, I thought it would be pertinent to share Taylor Mali's piece from 2007. I love when teachers define their boundaries beyond the parameters they're restricted to by schools and mandates. The current (de)form movement has no idea what energy, passion, creativity, and dedication it takes to really make a difference in the lives of young people. In their McEducation limitation, they think it is as easy as creating value meals and Supersizing when the need arises.

Anyone with classroom experience knows it takes education, professionalism, leadership, and liaison with national organizations of other teachers to make the biggest impact - the best teachers are attuned to research and not the dollar signs in the peripheral vision of today's corporate interests who are ruining schools.

Today, I am leading a workshop for 60+ soon-to-graduate urban teenagers who asked me to speak about writing in college. Lesson #1 is: UNDO WHAT THE REFORMISTS HAVE DONE TO YOU. In college, they will not take multiple, state-initiated examinations, but will be required to write abundantly in a variety of genres that depicts their knowledge from much reading (yes, it's close reading, but it is Freire's notion of literacy: read the world and the word).

I was in their position in 1990 and I had my Regents Honors diploma in hand...my AP coursework, and my good boy story. Then I entered college and realized I was not prepared for the critical thinking, creativity, and worldly knowledge needed of me. Instead, I was trained as a robot (and I did well on those tests. They were only good to get me in the door). When I finished suma cum laude, I chose to leave NYS because of the testing. I knew I wanted to teach, but I didn't want to fall into the rhetorical claims made by those exams. I learned they were Groupspeak. I moved to KY and felt fortunate to be part of state curriculum that really supported college and career readiness through the emphasis of research and writing.

Guest what? The reform movement came there. It was either become the robot of the tests or leave. I left.

I think it is important to offer counter narratives to what the reformers are claiming. There is some truth to the claims they make, yet they are funded by individuals with shady interests in profits off the backs of the poor. That is what bothers me most.

Taylor Mali? I could learn from him. He has voice, flavor, spunk, and originality. The machine and mechanism of the reform movement -- not so much. Perhaps we should higher Pee Wee Herman's Conky.

The word of the day? Resist.

What a teacher makes? Well, the kind I hope to be is what Mali expresses. What they hope the teacher will be is a poorly paid simulacra of the worst kind of teacher - a boring robot.  Just look at the PD offered in cities where the reformists have won. It's sick.

And that is my soap box for this morning. I'm going into the world to light some fires with young minds and to set them on a path of questioning everything.

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