The topic of performance payouts has gotten a great deal of reaction in the past few days. While I would imagine that those who came up with the plan for rewarding teachers were well-intended, I have a lot of issues with merit or performance pay for teachers.
While I was still in the classroom, I thought of myself as a career teacher and as a professional—not as a trained monkey who would perform for a reward. The whole concept of rewards strikes me in much the same way as when students used to ask me if they could get extra credit for this or that. My stock answer was usually something like this: your reward should be the intrinsic value of learning and from the value of spending 55 minutes per day with me.
Most good teachers do not do the things that they do that are above and beyond their contract so that they can be rewarded. They do it because it is the right thing to do. That is not how most teachers are wired. When I paid for things out of my own pocket for my students or for my own classroom, I did it because it needed to be done...not because I was looking for a reward or a Bozo button.
If legislators or schools districts really want to reward teachers, perhaps the best way would be to afford them respect as professionals by providing positive working conditions, by making sure that class sizes are small, by providing salaries that are commensurate with their education and experience level, by providing adequate social services to help children, by funding districts equitably, and by listening to educators' concerns about developmentally and instructionally appropriate methods of teaching.
Merit pay and performance payouts pit teachers against one another. Whether the intent was to reward teachers in specific zip codes, I cannot say, but whatever the case, the result is yet another slap in the face to those who work in the "wrong" district.
[EDITOR: This article was published as a letter in the December 29 edition of the Fort Wayne, News Sentinel]