Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Merit Pay, Teachers and Lion Tamers

Doug Noon shared some very timely and thought provoking commentary as well as quotations in today’s post, “Retro reform idea – Merit Pay.” My favorite quotation is the one he starts with from Al Shanker:

The idea that if you’re paid more you’ll work harder may apply to selling encyclopedias. If you’re a lion-tamer, you’re not going to work any harder just because you’ll be paid more. The job of a teacher is more like a lion-tamer, I think.

Give the full post a read, it’s worth the time.

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5 responses to “Merit Pay, Teachers and Lion Tamers”

  1. Greg Cruey Avatar

    I love the quote… and the logic behind it. “We’ll give you more money if you’ll REALLY teach” is among the most insulting offers I’ve ever heard.

  2. Kim Munoz Avatar
    Kim Munoz

    I work at a school that offers merit pay for teachers. I also had the chance to attend the TAP conference this year, which is the organization that started the type of merit pay program we are participating in. All of the teachers that I saw at that conf and all of the rewards that were awarded for working hard with our student’s was not in vain. I don’t think they question the logic behind this type of system. It’s more than just getting a bonus for teaching your kids! It’s a system that provides a career ladder for teachers as well as on-going professional development. I feel we are finally getting more for what we do with our kids. People always say that teachers don’t get paid enough or aren’t appreciated enough, but an incentive is an awesome reward. And why not? Other professionals get bonuses for doing their jobs well. I know of a manager that works at a home improvement store that received over $10,000 in bonus money. Look at the bonus’ on wallstreet! They are nothing compared to the few thousand dollars I hope to receive after meeting the requirements that our TAP program has layed out for us. Is the merit pay system perfect? No, but it’s a start to rewarding those that do their best and deserve a reward and recognition. Not every great teacher can get teacher of the year, but knowing your doing your job and getting something in return (other than the pride you feel inside) feels pretty good!

  3. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I don’t doubt that receiving a merit pay bonus feels great, Kim. I’m not taking issue with that.

    As Doug highlights in his post, however, the ways we measure “progress” and “success” during assessment become problematic when merit pay is concerned. What about educators who teach in the poorest schools? If school districts pay merit bonuses based on test scores, they create additional financial disincentives for educators to teach and continue teaching at schools with the poorest students and lowest scores.

    If schools WERE “just” businesses, then the merit pay argument might work. The reality is, schools are NOT businesses. Yes there are customers and different constituents that are served, but the bottom line of schools goes FAR beyond just test scores and other quantifiable outcomes. This becomes especially clear when we talk about students with special needs. Would a school that is run “as a business” necessarily want to serve those students? DO schools which are run as businesses serve the neediest students well? I don’t think so.

    I totally agree we need to pay our teachers more. Here in Oklahoma we’re 48th in the nation in teacher salaries. Why do schools in Oklahoma not look more like schools in Wyoming? Both are VERY wealthy in terms of natural resources. I can’t say this for sure but I suspect the reason is corruption and tax breaks which have been given to energy companies here. There is not a good, defensible reason for Oklahoma to be 48th in the nation in teacher salaries.

    Rather than paying teachers more for “merit” based on test scores, we should be paying educators more to teach in the situations which are the most difficult. I don’t think current “merit pay” proposals address this.

  4. Greg Cruey Avatar

    Hi Kim,

    Some thoughts…

    I’m familiar with TAP (the Teacher Advancement Program strated by the Milkin Family Foundation in 1999).

    When someone says “merit pay” I usually think of performance pay ideas that are based on STUDENT performance as compared to either an abstract goal or a state goal.

    You said: “I work at a school that offers merit pay for teachers. It’s a system that provides a career ladder for teachers as well as on-going professional development.”

    You’re right, of course. TAP rewards teachers for participating in professional development – which is a very positive approach. I don’t have a problem with differentiated pay – paying a teacher who takes advantage of professional development opportunities or participates in a professional learning community more than teachers who don’t. I work in a state that has that idea built into its payscale.

    TAP also builds a consensus at the school level as to what constitutes good teaching and then pays teachers extra for living up to that. It pays teachers for THEIR behavior, not for the test results of their students.

    You said: “Other professionals get bonuses for doing their jobs well. I know of a manager that works at a home improvement store that received over $10,000 in bonus money. Look at the bonus’ on wallstreet!”

    I hope I never think of my students as lumber to be moved off the warehouse floor. Incentive pay for teachers to pursue professional development is great. Incentive pay for teachers to take on added the responsibility of teacher leadership is marvelous. I think TAP focuses more on those two things than on paying teachers for student achievement.

    Creating a direct relationship between student achievement and teacher pay makes schools more of a competitive environment than a collaborative one. It’s also demoralizing for teachers who decide to work in impoverished school districts with lower performing schools. When “performance pay” of this type is proposed in the absence of the sort of professional development and teacher suport a program like TAP offers… well, THAT’s what I’m describing as insulting.

  5. Teacher World Avatar

    I find Doug’s comments so refreshing. Like Doug, I find it difficult to the point of ridiculous to pinpoint any one surefire way to evaluate a teacher’s excellence, and I am a teacher. So imagine the quandary if you gave this impossible task to government or committees to decide. It is frightening!

    It seems to me that a successful and reliable evaluation to fairly determine who receives merit pay would involve following a teacher around throughout both the school day and at home as well. If you are not a teacher or have never lived with a teacher, you have no concept of the number of hours that are dedicated outside of the school day to planning, preparing, and grading. Who will evaluate that?

    Who will evaluate what kind of relationship you have with your children, the counseling you do with your students in your classroom and with parents at conference time, the hours you spend on committees, the modifications you make to your curriculum to accomodate children on IEPs, the phone calls you make to parents to praise their child or try to solve a problem their child is having in school, the children’s assignment books you check and initial daily, and the ones whose bookbags you help pack at the end of the day? Who is going to see and evaluate these things? Who is going to evaluate the love you give each child in your classroom, even the ones who are hard to love, and how does that factor into an evaluation? Who will take note of the countless times you worked through your prep time at recess to intervene on behalf of students who were struggling with a concept you taught that day, or the candy and stickers you lavishly reward students with to encourage them to do their best? And who is going to observe your lessons; the strategies you teach your children to be successful, the mnemonics you teach them to remember concepts, how you engage and motivate them, your knowledge of the subject matter and your successful techniques to pass that knowledge on to them?

    It boggles my mind where to even begin! But the bottom line is this: I did not get into teaching because of the big salary, and I wouldn’t work any harder than I already do for a bigger pay out. My reward is more intrinsic, and I’m okay with that. So I guess I just don’t place much value in merit pay, but I sure would take umbrage with someone who tried to tell me I don’t deserve it.