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How a Poet Inspired 1,000 People to Become Teachers How a Poet Inspired 1,000 People to Become Teachers

How a Poet Inspired 1,000 People to Become Teachers

by Liz Dwyer

March 4, 2012

New York City-based slam poet and former teacher Taylor Mali is well-known as a vocal advocate for educators. With more than 6 million YouTube views, his poem "What Teachers Make" is the ultimate comeback to people who disrespect those who dedicate their lives to students. But since Mali left the classroom to perform and lecture to a global audience 12 years ago, he's done more than lyrically defend his colleagues' hard work.

In 2000, Mali launched the New Teacher Project, an effort to use "poetry, persuasion, and perseverance" to inspire 1,000 people to become educators. Mali asked people fill out a form on his site if they became teachers after hearing him speak or perform. When he started the project, he had no idea how long it would take to reach the goal but guessed he might accomplish it by 2006. "I failed," he says.

But no longer. Twelve years after he started, Mali has reached his goal of helping push 1,000 people to become educators. To celebrate the accomplishment, Mali is throwing a party in New York City next month and releasing his new book, What Teachers Make, which he describes as "an impassioned defense of teachers and why our society needs them now more than ever." He's also produced an updated video for the poem that first put him on the map. The video recounts a teacher being put on the spot at a dinner party by a snide lawyer who asks what he's paid.

Even though I've heard Mali's poetic response countless times over the years, it still thrills me to hear him break down why what teachers "make" has nothing to do with money. And despite reaching his goal, Mali has no plans to stop encouraging people to become teachers. "It may not pay what it should," he says, "but there are other rewards; and if you think you have what it takes you should consider it."

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