Recently, I was tipped off to Taylor Mali’s poem: “What Teachers Make.” The conceit of the poem centers around the meaning of the word “make.” When an adult snidely asks Taylor, a teacher, “what do you make?,” we witness what could have been the beginning of a rude and uncomfortable conversation about income and about the commonly-held assumption that teaching is a low-paid profession, (and therefore, WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?)
What we also witness is one adult trying to make another adult feel stupid for choosing teaching as a lifelong profession. For this adult, money is the only way to quantify success. Yet, the rest of the poem is a blow-by-blow account of exactly what it is that teachers MAKE, which is young adult thinkers, dreamers and doers.
This poem struck a chord with me for many reasons. Mostly, on the daily, I feel like I’m fighting a battle to prove why dance, especially tap dance, is an important field of study, and why what I make is valuable to Philadelphia and the world. My tangible evidence to prove my case is actually quite extensive…myself, my students, projects I’ve completed, grants I’ve won, shows I’ve produced, invitations to perform all over the East Coast. Still, I know I exist in a society where we privilege and reward those in the 1%, and from the moment we land on this Earth, it seems that every moment in a child’s life is evaluated by its potential return. (Yet, we waste more time staring at empty screens than ever…but I digress).
I get it. It might surprise you that I hold a Bachelor’s degree from our resident Ivy League school in University City and a graduate degree from one of the top ten English programs in the country. Why do I have these degrees? Because my own parents, who grew up staunchly blue-collar and middle class, didn’t have a clue as to how I could navigate a life as an artist or a dancer. When the dance program acceptances rolled in for me in the spring of 1997, as soon as the fat acceptance letter from Penn came in, there was no question as to where I would go.
Yet, still, here I am. I am me. An artist. An educator. A creator. An inspirer of many young people, some of whom definitely have the itch to want to dance their entire lives.
Why tap dance?
It will change your life.
Why teach tap dance?
You will change others lives in the process.