Friday, January 29, 2010

What Teachers Make

Poet Taylor Mali gives a short, inspired talk in response to the question, 'What do you make?'

According to his bio, he's not actually a teacher, which is a shame because I would send my kids to his school.

A few highlights:

'I make students work harder than they thought was possible.'

'I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.'

'I make a difference. What about you?'

So, we know employee morale is rather low these days and there is some disagreement about what we should do about it.

Some take the attitude of,
'If they leave, good riddance. They weren't committed. We don't want their kind here.' Well, then. If the proof is in the pudding, I'm thinking these people will be eating pudding soon. And not the nice chocolate kind.

Others recommend implementing various appreciation programs, improving the quality of communication, that sort of thing. Now, you might think long-suffering employees would be too jaded to believe in new management approaches that are mostly talk and no mulah. But fortunately, people are so desperate for a pat on the back at work these days that it might actually improve morale.

Still, as long as we're on the topic, let's go deeper. Let's imagine we work for someone as demanding as Taylor Mali claims to be. Someone like my old chemistry teacher Mrs. Glasso, who used to yell,
'Think! Think! Think!'

Guess what? We thought. We tried harder. We read the assignments before class. We studied for tests.

(Well, except for a few people who failed chemistry.)

Did we love her for working us so hard? Sure, um... about twenty years later. But getting an A from her
meant something.

Appreciation was pretty thin on the ground in Mrs. Glasso's class. You had to
earn it. You didn't just get it for showing up and taking notes. But when you got it, it meant something.

She knew what we were capable of and accepted no less.

I think appreciation has its place in the workplace. When deserved there's no excuse for withholding it.

But appreciation may be a stronger motivational tool if it isn't too cheaply come by.


  1. How funny - I just watched this yesterday as well! And, yes, I loved it!

  2. I had great and inspirational teachers too. Mrs. Grasso sounds like my chem teacher!

  3. There is a great point in Nurture Shock (the book Amy got me to read if you haven't yet I strongly suggest you do) that suggests that kids by middle school age are already able to sniff out "fake" vs. "real" praise. Why we think that adults would be any less capable is beyond me.


  4. This is really well written and I makes an excellent point. Now if only I could get my son to apply the lessons, maybe he'd do better in school. He's killing me.


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