In the comes the idea of merit pay for teachers.
It is an idea that crosses political lines, from the State of Ohio’s Republican Governor, to the nation’s Democratic President. And, I would imagine, if you asked the layman on the street if teachers should be paid according to their merits, that person would probably say that it’s a good idea.
Before we go any further down into this rabbit hole, let me first state that I am a teacher. And so the first argument I would imagine a pro-merit pay citizen would ask would be something along the lines of, “Why would teachers not want merit pay? If you’re a good one, you’ll be paid more.”
And that’s if they were addressing me respectfully about the matter.
I can understand someone who is not involved in education on a daily basis asking me this question. Teachers, I think it’s safe to say, are not exactly the most well-paid profession. And, taken at face value, I, as a spectacular teacher (with not only a grade-A personality, but with the pedagogical skills and humor to back up my incredible charm), would almost certainly be paid as handsomely as I look.
Which leads us to my first, return question: “Where is all of this merit money coming from, exactly?”
I may have spent too long looking in the mirror to notice a change in our state’s budget, but is there suddenly a wealth of money lying around waiting for teachers to suddenly be ok with the concept of merit pay, and to be doled out as bonuses for the hardest-working among us? Because that would be awesome. Maybe we’ll be getting some of that lottery money I keep hearing about.
No, I think we’ll have to be cutting some pay and laying off some other teachers to suddenly find that hidden treasure of money for which to pay my (soon to be exorbitant, I’m sure) merits. Which leads me to a second, popular question I hear a lot: “Why do we protect teachers who have been tenured, and sacrificing our bright, young teachers when it comes to layoffs?”
To that, my response-question is simple: “When did we suddenly decide that, because someone has been teaching for 15, 20, 30 or more years, they are somehow “phoning it in” and not being held accountable?”
Because I am in my seventh year, and I have benefitted infinitely from those teachers’ knowledge about student behavior and the so-called “business” of education. Their wisdom is, quite literally, invaluable. And, like all teachers across the state with a bargaining agreement (underline: agreement) the vast majority of them are being reviewed locally, and subjected to licensure renewals at the state level, just like I am.
Finding a common-sense refinement to that system can be an issue. Simply deciding that the fact that these people have spent more time in the classroom than I have should somehow leave them more exposed than I to being fired is ludicrous. They have met the state’s requirements to continue teaching in their schools and state.
They have gone back to get continuing education credits and Master’s Degrees on their own nickel, and have undergone evaluations by their administrators in order to get tenure. If you want to improve that process, I’m sure everyone would be amenable to that discussion. But don’t jump through the illogical hoop of assumption that their experience doesn’t entitle them to higher salary and better job security because they’re older.
Finally, there is the issue of determining exactly how the state will (ultimately assuredly) decide that I am deserving of financial reward for my merits. You could probably decide this on the testing of students, I suppose.
This assumes several things, mostly that the test is an actual variable-free indicator of intelligence and finite determinant of the abstract concept of “smarter,” but also that all the students who take it care enough to even attempt to pass it. What if, gasp-and-God-forbid, some of the teenagers we teach just didn’t place the same level of importance on that test as I do? I have had several students who failed the tenth grade OGT admit to me that they’ve simply fallen asleep during it, or ABCDCBA’d it just because they didn’t have the patience to read everything and take the test. It’s anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But are these not real problems that could not possibly happen to any other teacher across the state?
So, what other merits might we judge teachers on? Student growth over several years has been discussed. So, if a student is somehow (and, again, no one has come up with a statistically and socioeconomically variable-free manner in which to do this) evaluated and judged to have grown a great deal over three years, do all three of his former teachers receive a raise? How much? How much is a tenth grader worth, anyways?
And what if I were a HomeEc teacher? Would my merits be based on the deliciousness of the food my students create? Could I please get a raise if my students produce scrumdiddilyumptious, mouth-watering brownies? Because the fate of my mortgage is on the horizon. Quick! Everyone get a taste!
Perhaps the Governor and the President would like one with nuts, to match the validity of merit pay.