Why "A Difference"

3/23/2005 11:30:00 pm

I teach math. A "difference" is one of the four fundamental operations. The slope of a line is calculated using a quotient of "differences" which, when we first study calculus, evolves into the "difference quotient" (AKA the derivative). Later we study "differential equations."

This year at my school, the teachers in my department have decided to focus on using the teaching strategy Identifying Similarities and Differences. But more than all of this, the word "difference" suggests change. The breakneck evolution of technologies on the internet is changing they way we teach. It's hard to keep up. I hope to use this blog to record and reflect on my personal evolution of how to integrate these technologies into my teaching.

"A difference" also connotes the phrase: "make a difference." Something teachers do every day. A while back, while surfing the net, I found this poem by Taylor Mali. I was inspired....

A poem by: Taylor Mali

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued: "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"

He reminded the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers: "Those who can...do. Those who can't ... teach."

To corroborate, he said to another guest: "You're a teacher, Susan," he said. "Be honest. What do you make?"

Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness, replied, "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 if the student did not do his or her very best."

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

"I can make parents tremble in fear when I call home"

"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, and 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 all on their final drafts in English."

"I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart...and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you pay them no attention!"

"You want to know what I make?"

"I make a difference."

"And you? What do you make?"

(Listen to Taylor Mali perform the original, unedited version.)

Here is a video of Taylor performing this poem:

... and here it is as a slidecast:

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  1. I love the poem!!!! I think that every teacher should read it. It really emphasizes what teachers do. It can sure shutdown someones views that teachers are "Not worthy".

    It would be a good idea for parents to read this poem as well. I think that parents sometimes forget how much teachers play a part in raising their children.

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback. You raise another issue I'm wrestling with; how to encourage parents to post to the classroom blog. What kind of things should I have there? How can I entice them to participate? Anyone have any ideas?

  3. Anonymous30/9/07 13:31

    I liked the poem except for the line about putting fear into the hearts of parents when you call them. I try to call parents with good news as well as a request for assistance on less pleasant matters.
    As far as parent participation in a classroom blog I would appeal to their egos and the fact that collaboration is beneficial for everyone. When I have asked for parent input it is readily given. Ask them what they would like to discuss. This could include topics that they think their children would be most interested in. I have parents fill out a questionnaire in the beginning of the school year about their child. It is very insightful.

  4. Anonymous2/3/08 09:57

    I've read and heard this poem before. As a teacher, I cannot deny that part of me wants to cheer when I hear it. However, the better part of me says wait a minute... this poem is meant to shut people up instead of fostering discussion. And as a teacher, that makes me cringe. This poem is meant to be a slap in the face to anyone who attempts to criticize teachers. If you really want to know what teachers make (or should make), visit www.thelearningbox.info.

  5. Anonymous15/7/08 21:12

    aI think this poem is great to read right before a new school year.

  6. Anonymous20/7/10 07:13

    To be honest, I can't say I'm a big fan of this poem. It's so angry and negative, talking about putting fear into parents' hearts, denying students a toilet break etc.

    Can't help but feel as though the author/performer gets a power trip out of teaching, rather than doing it in order to bring the best out of his students for their own sake

  7. @Anonymous (above): Fair enough. I find it inspirational; everyone sees things differently I guess.