Merit pay for teachers versus competitive salary

Imagine this conversation:

Administrative team: “If you try twice as hard, we’ll pay you twice as much!”

Teacher: “But… I’m CURRENTLY doing about as much I’m able!”

A great horse, but not a race horse

The concept of ‘merit pay’, or awarding teachers financially for their students ‘results’ (what are we truly measuring?) is certainly a hot topic. Teachers are like jockeys (bear with me here):

  • a great jockey may push their top-notch horse to win The Triple Crown
  • a terrible jockey may break their top-notch horse, through poor guidance, not knowing when to push and when to save their horses strength
  • a great jockey cannot win any races riding a Clydesdale, a horse bred for strength, or with a 1 year old “thoroughbred- to-be”
 (note that the Clydesdale and the thoroughbred-to-be are wonderful horses – but either the task is not right, or the timing is not right.)

I follow Chris Lehmann’s blog, and his post about Making Teachers Rich suggested that being rich, is not the point for teacher. I agree with this. Apparently, so do teachers, because we start this career knowing full well that the salary will never be as high as an engineering salary.

And THAT, is the problem. I always wanted to teach, but I got my degree and first jobs in engineering because the pay offered more stability. When I left engineering, my mentors and the VP of operations called me to say “Listen, I want to teach tooo when I have some money saved up. Right now, you should think of your financial future.” These people WERE great teachers for me, although we diverged on this final point(they were family men – I have no wife or kids).

I contend that if starting engineering salaries are $50,000/yr, starting teacher salaries should be $55,000/yr. Let undergraduates compete like crazy to get teaching jobs, just like we did for engineering jobs.  I’m afraid that the teaching profession loses great teachers because they fear the comparable hardship of a low paying salary. Particularly with rising college tuition costs, the degree needs to pay off.

I agree with Mr. Lehmann, that we shouldn’t just make teachers rich. I also think that paying teachers for student performance will not lead to REAL performance improvements for teacher and student. However, let’s put teaching on an equal playing field with other professions, and let education compete with other careers that traditionally pay more money.

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  1. Devils Advocate: (or cynical reality)
    in order to pay teachers that much, there must be money within the school system.
    If everyone votes “no” on tax increases year after year, there will be no money. (truthfully, we’re lucky to be able to keep anyone at this point).
    Everyone will keep voting “no” so long as the money keeps being misappropriated once it reaches the administrative level. (computers are great, but people are better and we learned without new computers for thousands of years. it’s about priorities.)
    Administrators will keep mishandling their limited resources because they are just that, limited. Far more than they should be or than is useful.
    If you want to support education, seriously, go buy a sweatshirt. And a 200 dollar jersey. And hats. And pennants. And bumper stickers, mugs, 100 dollar tickets to school sports competitions, cell phone covers, car seat covers, special cable networks featuring all public school events all the time (even in the summer when there’s no school), and walk around the school trying to get teacher’s autographs and pictures.
    Oh, never mind, they don’t carry around inflated pieces of pig flesh while other people try to take it away from them, what fun is that?

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