Last Friday, I participated in a focus group on alternative teacher pay. Teachers from random schools were randomly selected–so the explanation goes–to meet together for a rather institutional dinner at our local college and to answer questions about alternative pay. This was one of many such groups conducted across Utah, by an independent company hired by the legislature to see what teachers really think about such pay.
My first thought was that this was about merit pay, which topic has been bounced around my junior high recently with almost universal agreement on several fronts:
- It’s not fair to give extra pay only to science and math teachers (the legislature granted this extra pay to math and science teachers last year).
- Merit pay shouldn’t be the result of politics or popularity.
- It’s really not fair to give extra pay only to those teachers of NCLB-tested subjects.
- You can do a school-wide opt-in project, but then the merit pay becomes so diluted that it’s not worth much once it hits your paycheck after taxes.
This focus group suggested some other alternatives:
- Teacher-driven objectives which can be met ,
- Professional development and/or coursework taken,
- Home visits and other community service, and
- Cooperative projects within the school, and so on.
Our group all agreed that there are really few bad teachers in our schools. Sure, there are a few hangers-on that are such fish out of water that they cannot do anything else, but these are very few and far between, we thought. Most teachers teach with good hearts and great efforts. They expend various amounts of their own income on supplying their classes with good materials, although Utah is one of the lowest-funded states for supplying classroom materials, according to one savvy elementary teacher at the meeting. We all agreed that teachers teach not because they get a paycheck, but because of altruism. We also agreed that really splendid teachers may not join our rural districts because our payscale is not competetive, and indeed teachers migrate from Utah because other states offer better pay.
We definitely agreed that testing doesn’t measure good teaching, and indeed, it seems ludicrous to hold teachers so accountable for student scores when there are so many variables, including second-language students; students from very poor families (prevalent in our district, for example); students from abuse situations (more common than we ever want to think); students with poor motivation; IEP students; and students who come to school high, unfed, or exhausted. Well, that accounts for just about everybody, doesn’t it? So certainly, we agreed, test scores should not ever be the criteria for alternative pay.
Will our opinions be heard and heeded? That was the final question. We beaten-down rural teachers are accustomed to being neither heard nor heeded, so we all headed out grateful at least for our $40 Amazon gift card and a so-so dinner. We gave it a try. . . but we don’t hold out much hope.