COMMENTARY 985.1: Making Lives

A few years ago I came across a video by a very dynamic speaker, a former middle school teacher named Taylor Mali. He is now what’s called a performance poet — someone who delivers poetry as singers deliver songs. The poem that caught my attention was “What Do I Make?” an articulate and aggressive response to a critic who was putting down teachers. Mr. Mali’s insights inspired me, and with Mr. Mali’s permission I built on the platform of his ideas and concept in my own version I call “Making Lives”:

Making Lives

The topic of education came up and a successful business executive said, “The problem with our education system starts with teachers. What can we expect from people who think teaching is the best way to make a living? Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” A guest protested, “I’ve been a teacher for 20 years, and that’s simplistic and unfair.” “Really?” the executive said. “Then be honest, what do you make?” “I suppose you’re thinking of money,” the teacher replied. “I earn enough, but let me tell you what I make.

“I make children read, think, write, wonder, and talk about important things — such as the world and their role in it.

“I make them appreciate the value of education so they will become interested and interesting lifelong learners able to find out whatever they want to know.

“I make them try things they think they can’t do, work harder than they want to and accomplish more than they thought possible and, whenever they do their best, I make them feel proud, capable and worthy.

“I encourage them to be skeptical without being cynical, and to be optimistic without being naïve.

“I make them understand that the quality of their life will be determined by their choices, and I make them take responsibility for their actions.

“I make them appreciate the importance of integrity and honor in a world that too often shows little regard for either.

“I make them respect themselves and treat others with respect.

“I make them feel proud and grateful to live in America where people are entitled to be treated fairly and with respect and judged by their accomplishments and character, not by their color, creed, or the size of their bank account.

“Most of all, I make a difference.

“I don’t just make a living, I make lives.”

*To see Mr. Mali’s original version and other poems and works, visit

1 I Make Lives

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