17 February 2008

How to Pay, Not Make, Great Teachers

This week's Time magazine cover article has been of great interest around to others in the edusphere---and I am also intrigued. If you haven't seen it, it's about How to Make Great Teachers. I have to warn you, however, that there is nothing actually in the article about what it takes to make a great teacher. Most of the article is about the idea of merit pay with some information about teacher retention thrown in for good measure. If Time wants to talk about making great teachers, they likely need to cast their eyes toward teacher ed programs at the universities and the kinds of staff development programs which are successful within school districts. Instead the argument is that if you pay teachers more, they'll do a better job in the classroom.

I don't buy this argument. I would agree that money can be a motivator for teachers (and likely all other professions), but I don't think that waving more money in the face of a teacher with a poor skill set is going to make them improve. If they don't have the tools they need to do a high quality job in the classroom, offering more money will not magically make those tools appear. So-so teachers need coaching and instructional leadership to build their abilities.

I've posted about merit pay here a few times over the years. I've always been a bit ambivalent---not entirely convinced that we can properly define and quantify the aspects of a "good teacher" enough to determine who deserves additional pay...and yet it seems unfair that those teachers who show up to collect a paycheck receive the same salary and benefits as the teachers who bust their butts to reach as many kids as possible and support their learning. Like most things in the field of education, this is just not an issue with a simple answer. The real question behind it is "How do we ensure that every student in a public school has the best possible classroom teacher?" Maybe Time magazine needs to take that on.

1 comment:

Clix said...

Further on in the article, they mention programs that, in addition to offering bonuses, provide training opportunities and require self-reflection as ways to earn the bonuses.