taylor mali: poetry, persuasion + perseverance


“I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you, I challenge you: To speak with conviction . . .” recites Taylor Mali.

Intermediate Program students sit hushed in Wellesley's Alumnae Hall auditorium, their attention hanging on the acclaimed slam poet’s every syllable. Tonight, his stage presence is theatrical, something his tall imposing stature can only work to accentuate. He delivers the final lines of his poem Typography — "Totally like whatever, you know?" — and the crowd of eight and ninth-graders erupts into cheers and applause.

Mali follows with Miracle Worker, dedicated to all the teachers in the audience and anyone considering becoming a teacher. As he begins, the passion in his voice is palpable.

Sunday nights I lie awake—
as all teachers do—
and wait for sleep to come
like the last student in my class to arrive.
My grading is done, my lesson plans are in order,
and still sleep wanders the hallways like Lower School music.
I’m a teacher. This is what I do.


As one of Exploration’s inaugural artists-in-residence, Mali spends two full days at the Intermediate Program, co-teaching classes, leading activities with students, running a poetry slam main event, and working with faculty in professional development sessions. His work not only amuses and inspires, but speaks to the nobility of teaching, often lighting a spark https://www.viagrapascherfr.com/viagra-achat-en-ligne/ in those considering the profession — and re-invigorating those that are veterans. "I write about what is true in my life," Mali says.

David Summergrad, the Intermediate Program's Director of Curriculum, who was a teacher for 25 years and a principal for nine, recalls a story Mali told that speaks to how teachers are able to so dramatically widen their students minds through new ideas. 

"The most important thing Taylor Mali told us — to use the expression a student once said to him after learning something new — is 'This changes everything.' It's a powerful thought—the ability teachers have to affect a student. We want to believe that when a student leaves Explo after three weeks, they're profoundly changed," says Summergrad. "And we do hear that over and over from our students."


As the evening continues in the Wellesley auditorium, Mali's words rev imaginations and his intensity flows in waves of energy out and over the dimly lit room. He leads everyone through a trail of poetry from his two books, The Last Time as We Are (2009) and What Learning Leaves (2002). His comedic honesty hits home with Explo Intermediate students as he recites poems that make light of universally understood school day occurrences and provoke thought out of seemingly small moments.

"Almost everything he said I could relate to in some way," says Alex, an 8th grade Explo student from NYC whose eyes widen and light up when asked about Mali's poetry.

Laughter roars through the crowd after his recitation of On Girls Lending Pens. It's a tale of one student's quest to borrow a pen from a peer who carefully guards her rainbow of color and tips for every occasion. Taylor Mali's Middle School for Geniuses depicts fictional 6th, 7th, and 8th grades where the standardized curriculum has been replaced with hands-on, real-life applicable courses infused with creativity.

III. In My Middle School There is no 8th Grade

It's been replaced with a year of medical school combined
with a MFA in creative writing for 14-year-olds,
and all the students wear white lab coats over black turtlenecks.
Berets are optional.

Cheers and chuckles and a double round of applause cement the fact that the audience is thoroughly enthused by Mali's wit. 

"My middle school — that middle school where 8th grade is medical school, 7th grade is law school, 6th grade is business school — that doesn't really exist as far as I know in my head, with one exception . . ." says Mali. "This is pretty darn close, Explo." He's worked the crowd into a frenzy as they cheer in overwhelming agreement about their Explo experience. 

"I have goal of creating 1,000 new teachers, simply by the way I talk about the profession," says Mali,  "And it's usually this last poem that pushes people over the edge and it makes them decide to become a teacher." 

The poem begins as a dinner guest makes the mistake of bringing up the saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

"I mean, you're a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

Roused by this question, Mali is animated as he fervidly tells the dinner party guests exactly what he makes — a difference.

"He read it with such heart and legitimate feeling," says Alex. "He was really inspirational. Not only the text but how he said it inspired me to consider teaching for a career option."

This really does change everything.