Brian Edwards Media

Taylor Mali in praise of teachers.

Taylor Mali delivers a powerful response to the accusation:   Those who can’t, teach.



  1. The saying used to be: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

    When I went to teachers’ college there was a new version doing the rounds:

    Those who can, do.

    Those who can’t, teach.

    And those who can’t teach, teach PE.

  2. Yes, I want him to teach my kids. It’s a cruel phrase against teachers, for no real apparent reason. All professions have poor examples, but to continually dis-empower teachers is effectively self-harm.

  3. High time someone went into bat for teachers. Considering what they do and have to put up with (politicians, and, yes, parents, too, treating schools as baby-sitting services and unemployment centres, with the attendant dire consequences) I reckon they aren’t paid nearly enough.

    Years ago a highly regarded, very experienced school principal retired with years of good teaching left in him. Asked what it would take to bring him back into active service: ‘Double my salary,’ he said,’and I’ll consider it.’

    And do you know, if our society really valued education as a community as well as an individual good – I mean, really valued – that’s what we’d be paying teachers. At least we would give such salary levels something to aim for as they develop experience and expertise in their profession.

    We get the education service we pay for, I guess. You hear politicians rabbiting on about ‘getting rid’ of poor teachers (at the same time as shovelling unemployed adolescent kids back into schools that are in no position to provide for them, be it noted), when same politicians wouln’t know a good from a mediocre teacher if both were presented with large signs saying ‘Smokin’ Hot’ and ‘Puke Haggard’.

    At that, is ‘no teacher’ better than a ‘poor teacher’? Or are you going to get the good teacher to take a class of 40 instead of 35 as the reject goes down the road? Not a bad way to transform a good teacher into a poor one by the sound of it.

    In 1989, at a time of falling rolls the 4th Labour Administration achieved the miraculous, a shortfall nationwide of 400 teachers. You would think, wouldn’t you, that the opportunity to reduce class sizes would have been grabbed with both hands, tears of gratitude pouring from the eyes of the Minister of Education.

    Nope. That level of utter incapacity takes talent, which Labour then had in buckets. Somehow managing to mangle even good ideas (National Standards), the Yahoos presiding over our education system since then have ensured zero improvement in 20 years.

  4. I always thought that those who can’t go into politics and those who can’t do that either become Minister of Education.

    Yes we seriuosly undervalue teachers but they do themselves no favours being represented by the PPTA; a public relations disaster. To recycle the phrase used at the time of the UK miners strike, “lions led by donkeys”. Fortunately for the PPTA it is opposed by a minister who is equally clueless.

  5. My schooling consisted of maybe 2 fabulous teachers with which I excelled.I had a number of average teachers who possibly werent cut out directly for teaching.I had one maniac whom I still think of now ,whom I wouldn’t allow to teach a dog let alone a child.He was a volatile wife basher who was socially well connected and enjoyed indulging his sadistic pleasures on students.
    My sons teachers follow a similar pattern with the exception of the sadist.I accept average as being ok but below that there seems to be little or no formula for addressing this issue.
    I consider teachers to be fairly remunerated for their effort.I support them in their request for a wage rise and smaller class sizes.Im dissappointed in their lack of solidarity over national standards.My personal view is that the key to good educational standards evolves around class size rather than an enforced learning standard.I really liked Taylor Mali’s reference of parental involvement as I think that it is a key issue for sucess also.

  6. Mali is pointing out, I think, the naivety of the modern critic of teachers and their profession. Ben points the finger at politicians. But there are others. Check out both the front and the b(l)ack pages of The Listener for examples.

  7. Well, the B(l)ack page of the Listener having a close relationship with Key’s chief of staff can hardly be expected to ‘rock the boat’.

  8. Actually, what were Oscar Wilde’s achievements?

  9. Is the guy a real teacher or a wannabe stand-up comedian? His delivery is overly-affected, too animated, too much hand-gesturing, too deliberate with the rise-and-fall in the vocal intonation; all too theatrical, like he’s out to work his audience. All a big put-on, if you ask me. One big pain in the butt!

    • @Ostrich Pride.
      Mali is a poet – and this is one of his poems. How would you expect him to deliver it to an audience? In a monotone?

  10. I thought the thing was an excerpt from a debate of some sort. At that, as the guy was speaking to an audience, you would expect fairly large hand gestures and a variety of tone and pace in his delivery. The people at the back have to know what’s being said.

    Tell you what: if that guy really is or was a teacher he would have the kids enthralled, no error.


  11. What an educational thread! I went and looked up Taylor Mali and Slam Poetry. Fascinating. Bright dude.

  12. It’s not cut and dried. If all teachers were the way Mr Mali seems to be the argument would be over. Many are. Sadly, too many are not. Too many are just warming seats.

    In the 40s and 50s when I was in school I only remember one outstanding teacher. H. V. Miller—a gentle man and a talented artist—at North East Valley in Dunedin. A wonderful and inspiring teacher. He made a difference in my life. The rest ranged from acceptable to dreadful.

    How much more might I and all those other kids have achieved if we’d had 3 or 4 more Harry Millers? Or 10 more?

    After putting 3 kids and 8 grandchildren through the system I haven’t detected any great change in the talents on offer.

    The system isn’t broken, but it needs tweaking. Sure we need to pay good teachers more, but performance pay is a must.

    To those who say we can’t afford to pay better salaries: visit your local schools, see how much is wasted on high priced technology which is actually a barrier to learning.

    More talk and chalk. Less quad-core laptops. More reading, writing and arithmetic. Less visits to the zoo and days off for shopping.

  13. “More talk and chalk. Less quad-core laptops. More reading, writing and arithmetic. Less visits to the zoo and days off for shopping.

    “Amen” to that.

  14. ‘Performance pay': no. I can’t think of a more calculated disincentive. Better training and an insistence on high standards would seem to me more directed and effective approaches. I would have thought the smarter option would have been to try and attract more ‘can do’ candidates to the profession. Whatever the solution is, it is clearly beyond the capacity of the pygmy intellects that govern us.

    ‘You pay peanuts, you get apes’ (was that Henry Ford?). A salary worthy of the calling, a career path and opportunities to develop further skills, and working conditions that will encourage the use of those skills – surely these are more likely to give us better teachers. Sush a system actual builds within itself ‘performance pay’ at that.

    That aside: whilst we continue to have over-populated classrooms (a policy that seems embedded in whichever major Party holds the Treasury benches); so long as schools are treated as baby-sitting centres; whilst schools are treated as a carpet under which adolescents are swept to ‘lend verisimilitude to … bald and unconvincing’ unemployment figures … any notion of ‘performance pay’ is worse than an insult: it is a joke in very poor taste.

    What the hell is wrong with school visits to the zoo, anyhow?

  15. Concerning ‘high priced’ technology in schools, I have rather crossed the fence on that one. So much a part of everyday life has ‘Information Technology’ become, that is essential that school kids have regular and frequent access to it in the course of their education/learning. True, there is (in my view) too much of the ‘training for the workforce’ in this (I would much prefer more emphasis upon learning for good citizenship, but what government would want that??), but otherwise I am persuaded that the use of IT in schools is a Good Thing.

    Far from a barrier to learning, IT may well be a positive help. Many kids are attracted to computers and will learn from them far more – and more enjoyably – than they would from a monotonous diet of chalk and talk. Private sector tutors in arithmetic and mathematics – and I daresay in other subjects – use PCs as a matter of course.

    At higher levels of education, the Internet is a huge resource for research (the use of which will soon develop in students their critical faculties to determine what to believe and disbelieve…). Cripes, the things we could have done with it when I was at school!

    Of course, one can have too much of a good thing, especially if it’s at the expense of other good things… like school visits to the zoo…

  16. We all have teachers that we love and remember. (Ms Weton, 4’11” of pure terror and brilliance clip clopping along in 6″ heals.)

    But I’m sure, even the more average of the teachers in our schools could do better if they had class sizes of 20 instead of 35.

    The nub of the problem is that even the best of the best get beaten if you out number them.

    Imagine facing 35 bored 16 year olds from Otara, Upper Hutt, Henderson, Porirura or any other poor neighborhood in NZ (yes it makes a difference and you are a bloody idiot if you think it doesn’t) and getting them to learn. Now imagine if you only had to face 20. It’s a hell of a lot easier.

    Perhaps the answer for everyone is not giving the teachers more money, more pats on the back, but is rather giving them a realistic teaching goal. No one learns when all a teacher can manage (or not manage) is crowd control. (And if thats all we will ask them to do, then give them the tazers we are going to give the police!)

  17. What an educational thread! I went and looked up Taylor Mali and Slam Poetry. Fascinating. Bright dude.