Tuesday, June 14, 2005

“What Social Workers Make”…and the added bonus of “What Teachers Make”…

On May 15 the Mandel School heard a very good commencement speech by Regina Brett, a columnist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Ms. Brett was invited to address the graduates because of her published record of involvement in social welfare issues in Cleveland. We anticipated that she would have a message that would be both entertaining and inspirational for our graduates and their guests. We were not disappointed.Because of the very positive response that Ms. Brett received at the commencement ceremony, she wrote a column that appeared in the May 17 edition of the Plain Dealer that contains much of her original presentation.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Regina Brett
Plain Dealer Columnist

"Sally Social Worker"
I've been called that for writing "bleeding heart" columns. After looking into the eyes of a sea of social workers on Sunday, I'll never take that as an insult. When the folks at The Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University asked me to speak at Sunday's commencement, I wasn't sure what to say. I asked my friends who are social workers. They told me to be funny. Social workers could use a good laugh. Tell jokes, they said.

Jokes? I don't know any jokes about social work, except the ones my friends send me:
How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They empower the bulb to change itself.
How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?
None. The bulb isn't burned out, it's just differently lit.
How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They set up a team to write a paper on coping with darkness.
And my favorite, How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?
The light bulb doesn't need changing, it's the system that needs to change.

Actually, my friends probably got those jokes from the same Web sites where I found this:
A mugger with a gun confronts a social worker. The mugger yells, "Your money or your life!" "I'm sorry," the social worker answers, "I'm a social worker, so I have no money . . . and no life."

Social workers, like most teachers, don't make much. Or do they?
I recently read a powerful e-mail about what teachers make by the poet and comic Taylor Mali. It inspired me to rethink what social workers make.

What do they make?
They make an infertile couple celebrate a lifetime of Mother's Days and Father's Days by helping them adopt a crack baby no one else wanted.
They make a child fall asleep every night without fear of his father's fists.
They make a homeless veteran feel at home in the world.
They make a teenager decide to stop cutting herself.
They make a beaten woman find the courage to leave her abuser for good.
They make a boy with Down syndrome feel like the smartest kid on the bus.

What do they make?
They make a 10-year-old believe that he is loved and wanted, regardless of how long he lasts in the next foster home.
They make a teen father count to 10 and leave the room so he won't shake his newborn son. They make a man with schizophrenia see past his demons.
They make a rape victim talk about it for the first time in years.
They make an ex-convict put down the bottle and hold down a job.

What do they make?
They make a couple communicate so well they decide not to get divorced.
They make a dying cancer patient make peace with her past, with her brief future, with her God.
They make the old man whose wife has Alzheimer's cherish the good times, when she still remembered him.
They make forgotten people feel cherished, ugly people feel beautiful, confused people feel understood, broken people feel whole.

What do they make?
They make more than most people will ever make.
They make a difference.


Here is the piece by Taylor Mali which inspired Ms. Brett’s speech:

What Teachers Make,
orYou can always go to law school if things don't work out
By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"

He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that it's also true what they say about lawyers. Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

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

And I wish he hadn't done that (asked me to be honest) because, you see, I have a policy about honesty and ass-kicking: if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.

I make them understand that if you got this (brains) then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

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