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Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Rewarding Good Teachers

By Brian Crosby — July 02, 2010 3 min read
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“Mr. Crosby is peerless as an instructional leader. He is quintessentially professional in all aspects of his work.”

“An excellent teacher. He has high expectations for all of his students.”

“His lessons are superb. His students are actively engaged in the learning process so much so that his students have actually developed their own standards-based lesson plans.”

“Mr. Crosby has an incredible way of motivating his students.”

“I saw more outstanding teaching techniques in 25 minutes than I’ve seen in a long time.”

“New teachers desiring to learn effective instructional strategies would benefit from observing his instruction and ability to engage all students.”

“He is a model for the teaching profession.”

These are excerpts from administrators’ evaluations during my 21 years of teaching high school English. They are not meant to demonstrate how great a teacher I am. I consider myself a very good teacher, but not Teacher of the Year material.

Rather, the purpose of using these comments is to show how, despite earning the highest commendations from superiors, I and millions of other teachers are never rewarded, either with pay or promotion.

Teaching is more a calling than a profession, many have said. But it shouldn’t be a sacrifice, a sacrifice of salary, working conditions, and respect.

If I worked in the private sector, some of this praise would have generated bonuses or promotions. I have received neither in my entire teaching career. What many teachers do get are well-intentioned but often insulting thank-you gifts from their local PTAs during Teacher Appreciation Week, more often than not changed to the more politically correct Staff Appreciation Week (God forbid teachers get singled out for the job they do). Some of these trinkets include a miniature fan with a note “you are FAN-tastic,” a penny with the saying “we are the lucky ones,” and a marble attached to a card reading “you are MARBLE-ous,” all proving that it is often better to give than to receive.

If teachers knew that when they worked hard they would be promoted to a higher level of not just salary but status, quality would finally define the teaching profession.

Teachers are not paid based on their performance, but on the number of years on the job and college units earned. In other words, there is no subjectivity involved. A teacher may work very hard, another do the bare minimum, yet each receives the same amount of money. A teacher may spark the minds of young people, or dampen their spirits. No matter. The paycheck is the same.

This is not right.

There are a few school districts that have implemented merit pay or performance-based compensation systems. Both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan favor paying teachers for their performance, as long as one of the criteria used in evaluating performance is test results. This is where I draw the line.

To use a broad, standardized test that all students take in a state as a measure of that particular teacher’s record is erroneous. Some teachers are blessed with high-achieving students, while others are less lucky with unmotivated kids.

The only advantage in using test results as a teacher-evaluation tool is that it is quick. One looks at numbers and notices if they’ve gone up or down. Done.

A more effective evaluation system would be to observe certain behaviors in the teacher, behaviors that all parties can agree represent excellent teaching skills.

Of course, much more time and energy is expended when visiting classrooms for several minutes at a time, multiple times, over the course of a year. Man-hours-intensive, to be sure. But a more accurate picture of the teacher’s abilities will be observed.

Implementing career ladders in the teaching profession would also aid in giving students a higher caliber of instructor. If teachers knew that when they worked hard they would be promoted to a higher level of not just salary but status, quality would finally define the teaching profession.

Saying that children are our country’s most precious resource may be a cliché, but it is true. Ensuring that the people who work with this resource are the best isn’t asking too much.

Kids go to school only 180 days of the year on average, a total of 2,340 days from kindergarten through 12th grade. Let’s make sure children spend those precious days with the best teaching talent that money can buy. Performance pay and career ladders are part of an insurance policy for the future of America.

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