Wednesday, 16 May 2012

On Performance Pay for Teachers

Performance pay for teachers is back in the news. Oh dear. That old chestnut. Teachers get pay increases despite their performance! Terrible teachers are tearing down our education system, one child at a time! Give it a rest, righties. None of that is true. But the remuneration system for teachers could do with some work. So in principle, yes, I agree with performance pay. But it doesn't just come down to whether Jimmy, Johnny and Jenny get good grades. It's much more complex than that. Teaching is not just getting kids to pass tests and decorate the classroom walls with brightly coloured project based assignments. Teaching is a complex balance of paperwork, social work, negotiation and relationship building. And no, it's definitely not 9-3 with plenty of holidays.

Performance pay needs to take various elements into consideration. Firstly, paperwork. Paperwork is lesson planning, curriculum research and application, marking student work and so on and so forth. A teacher's ability to keep up with and complete paperwork to a high standard is a good indicator of their grasp of the job. It is an element they should be assessed on.

The second element is classroom behaviour management. That is, keeping the students on task and obeying school rules, responding to bullying and convincing grumpy kids to learn about things they have no interest in. Some will say this is the most important aspect. In some classrooms, it's all the teacher feels they ever do, but it's just an aspect.

School community engagement and relationship building. A teacher can be great with students and excellent with paperwork, but if they can't work well with fellow teachers or teacher aids, or if they can't take direction from deans and heads of department, their performance is not adequate and should be recognised as such. If parents find them distant or frosty and they show no interest in sports or cultural activities on offer at the school, they will be shirking their responsibilities as a member of the wider school community.

And lastly, student achievement outcomes. These are important, to parents, to boards of trustees, to league-table-hungry news outlets and to the students themselves. But a great teacher in a low decile classroom cannot perform NCEA or National Standard miracles. Thus, they should be judged on a combination of factors. And if any factor is found to be severely lacking, action must be taken to improve the teacher's skills or change the environment in which they teach so that they can be more effective. Remove the violent kid from the classroom or free the teacher up from some of their lesson planning by utilising those created by more experienced teachers.

Performance pay for teachers sits inside the wider issue of improving teacher performance and ultimately student outcomes. Great teachers in great environments produce great outcomes for students who are willing to learn and work hard. To rate teachers' performance on that of their students is wrong. Many factors make a good teacher, and many factors make a bad teacher. Let's look closely at those factors and reward those who get all the elements of teaching right. Don't let anyone tell you that performance pay is about rewarding teachers in high-decile schools, or that there will be a mass exodus from the profession if it is implemented. That's simply not true, provided the Ministry is sensible about how it puts the policy in place.

Disclaimer: I have never trained or worked as a teacher. I have never worked for the Ministry of Education nor any Minster of Education. I received a New Zealand public school education from 1994-2006 and look mum, I can read and write!

Your feedback is welcome. I get that not everyone will agree with me, and I get that I don't know everything. 

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