The question of merit pay and whether or not it has a role in today’s teacher contracts is constantly being brought up in the news and in educational policy.
Lawmakers and school districts seem to think that offering teachers a monetary incentive for their students to do well in the classroom and on standardized tests is the ticket to turning around failing schools.
I see a number of problems with this theory:
1. The theory is that students will be successful if they have a motivated teacher who is willing to do anything (like accept bribe money, er. . . merit pay) to make his/her students learn. Last I checked, I am motivated and I am willing to do anything to get my kids to learn. Am I getting extra money for doing the job I was hired to do? Absolutely not. (Sure, I won’t turn down more money.) Teachers are hired for the job because they are motivated individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their kids to learn. Merit pay or not. That’s the calling of the profession.
2. Getting kids to do well on standardized tests is so much more than making sure the kids know the content. If the students come to school without a good breakfast or with too little sleep, then it is likely that they will do poorly on that test that determines the merit pay given to a teacher. Is that really fair?
3. Students in inner-city areas come to the classroom with a whole host of problems that teachers are constantly addressing. Poverty, single-parent households, lack of childcare options forcing older siblings to take care of younger siblings, no parental support for homework and studying, etc. Inner-city students struggle to stay alert and focused in the classroom. Is it fair to reward teachers who students do well on standardized tests because they get 3 square meals a day, parental support, and basic necessities provided while our inner-city kids struggle to receive all of those things?
4. We assume teachers are the only factor in testing. If students do well on a standardized test, shouldn’t some of that reward be bestowed on the student. Didn’t the student study hard, pay attention in class, put in good effort on the test, use her critical thinking skills, etc.? Why is only the teacher we are choosing to reward with merit pay?
5. What about the fact that we shouldn’t be rewarded for what we are supposed to be doing. We are supposed to educate students to be successful. Why should we get a reward for that. We bemoan the fact that today’s youth get rewarded for every little thing they do and the things they are expected to do, at that! Merit pay is going to turn into the “giving every kid a trophy at the end of the soccer season ritual.” Is that what we want?
I think the key to remember here is that we are called to be educators. We are called to guide our students through a successful educational experience. That is the calling of the profession and we should not be willing to give anything less than our best to help students achieve.