The Merits of Teachers and Teacher Pay

I keep a couple of files of blog post ideas. Whenever I come across a quote or an opinion, idea, or suggestion that interests me, I toss it into the file. If I had more time, I would post more regularly–I have a lot of my own opinions and the files are pretty full. I was just finishing up and filing an article for our union publication when I came across this response related to pay-for-performance or merit pay. It was written in response to a Diane Ravitch blog post about a CNN interview that did not do justice to Ravitch.

This is the second time that I have made use of this particular quote. I used it back in August when writing about career ladders for educators. This time my focus is on pay-for-performance proposals. The bolding is mine.

J.M. Tumbleson     August 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm |

“I work in a city with significant amounts of poverty. I see teachers who work hard, who think hard and who try to collaborate with others in order to constantly improve their practice. Never have I heard any teacher argue for merit pay. They will argue for more planning time, they might argue for more services for their students with various social, emotional or cognitive needs, they might argue for more money for special classroom projects, they might even argue for a longer lunch, but never once have I heard a teacher argue for merit pay. The hundreds of teachers I have known want to work collaboratively and see themselves as having a shared mission in which they play an essential role for the community and for the children. The interviewer has been fed disinformation on what most teachers want, most likely from sources that will monetarily profit from the destruction of the public schools.”

J.M. is right. I have spent 40 years working with and hanging out with teachers and other education professionals, and they have NEVER, EVER—not once—wished for or suggested merit pay.

I would add that there are a few other things for which they will argue:

  • control of class size, with a sensible maximum
  • a consistent, reliable, fair student discipline plan that works—that improves student conduct, reduces disruptive behaviors and keeps kids in class, where they belong
  • a reliable working copier
  • sufficient supplies of copier paper
  • professional development that is relevant to what they teach and suited to their needs
  • a charismatic, personable school leader who can make things happen                                supportive and engaged parents/guardians

The list could go on and on. These concepts, practices, and measures are what we in the ed biz call “WORKING CONDITIONS.” These are the situations and circumstances that educators feel can make or break their opportunities to do a good to better to best job for their students. I agree.

Teaching is challenging enough without having to work against these kinds of factors and forces. As a full-time science teacher, I know what a difference I can make if I have 25 kids, instead of 35; a fully supplied science program; adequate training on both the content and pedagogy of inquiry-based, hands-on science; plus time during the work day to prep for my five consecutive lab periods. [Science instruction involves a tremendous amount and variety of material prep; for example, measuring and stripping enough wires for 15 teams in each of five classes; measuring out liquid and powder materials; special preparation of 30 battery-powered cars; and counting out hundreds of marbles, straws, string, rulers, pulleys, etc.]

Teachers may have a great deal to say about merit pay, but I have never heard my colleagues speak in favor of establishing a program or system that offered teachers bonuses based on the merit of their work. The current use of student test scores as a substantive identifier of those teachers who will be deemed HIGHLY EFFECTIVE is troubling enough to teachers. Using these same metrics to award bonuses is, in the eyes of teachers and many building and district administrators, fraught with problems and goes against the common school culture of collegiality, cooperation, collaboration, and the sense that “we’re all in this together.” There is a great deal of messaging around the need for all members of a school community to recognize his/her role and to take responsibility for progress in reading and math, and for overall student improvement.

Merit pay seems to fly in the face of those values. Can you really have it both ways?

Some reward programs have been expanded to become teacher attraction and retention initiatives. This is intended to keep very effective teachers in schools that appear to need them the most and to lure other really successful teachers to come to those schools that are struggling to improve student learning and progress. I know what those teachers who may be eligible for a program like this will immediately consider :                                               >Who’s the principal?                                                                                                                       >What is the school’s reputation: is it clean, well-kept, well-disciplined, well-supplied?   >What are working conditions like at this school?                                                                      >Who do I trust to give me the lowdown on this place?

So, what do teachers really want? What do they deserve? What will it take to continue to attract qualified, committed people to teaching? How can the prospects of a lifelong career in TEACHING–not in school or district administration, and not just peripherally involved in education like so many TFA grads–be enhanced to bring people to and keep people in this grand profession?

Here is what the Christian Science Monitor had to say in a recent article titled How to keep talented teachers from leaving . If you choose to view the entire article–I guarantee that it is well-worth the time–be sure to also click on the two blog posts integrated into the article: The beatings will continue until teacher morale improves and  Teachers who excel: A lesson from Miss Smoot .

“Imagine a profession whose influence on individual lives is more significant than that of nearly any other occupation, whose role in society is universally acknowledged to be among the most critical to the future, and whose practitioners are often described as “heroic,” “beloved,” and “admired.” Now imagine that this profession cannot recruit and retain the best people because it is seen by many as a dead end, neither financially remunerative nor socially and creatively fulfilling.

This destructive paradox describes the profession of teaching in the United States.
Soon the education priorities for President Obama’s second administration will begin to take shape. They will no doubt include, as they did during his first term, recruiting and retaining strong teachers who can prepare young people for the contemporary workforce. They should also include renewing our national commitment to teaching as a profession of status and a life of consequence.

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This entry was posted in Accountability, Education Budgets, Merit Pay, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, Teachers and Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Merits of Teachers and Teacher Pay

  1. Jack says:

    We are 10th in the nation in per student funding, absolutely no reason for every classroom not to have all the supplies they need. DSEA must support financial transparency just like achievement.
    Administrative /clerical support should also be provided.

  2. Eva Peterson says:

    So clear and consistent with my experience too. Loved the last line the best!! Sending love,E

  3. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

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