Performance Pay for teachers: my two cents

I don’t know that much about politics. If I ever watch television I watch non-commercial television stations (ABC and SBS) and I listen to non-commercial radio (mostly Triple J, sometimes ABC Radio National when I can’t stand the music on the Js). I guess that fact means I am not swayed by mainstream media reports of politicians or political decisions. I’ve pretty much always voted Green, sometimes Labor. I don’t know much about politics. This is my disclaimer.

I don’t agree with performance pay for teachers. I don’t have an intellectual argument, or an argument supported by a deep understanding of budgets, education policy or education systems. I have an argument based on emotion and experience. That’s all I can contribute to this debate.

When I was 15 I was introduced to a band called Fugazi. The first album of theirs I bought was ‘Thirteen Songs‘. I was moved by the passionate lyrics, vocals and music that I discovered on that CD of 13 songs. I was surprised to hear a man sing about the oppression of women by the social expectation to meet an ideal and the impact this has on our ability to walk down the street ‘free of suggestion’. He caught my experience in one. That album is full of expressions of frustration with injustice in society. The next album I hurriedly bought was their Repeater + 3 songs. This album didn’t disappoint either. The song ‘Merchandise’ with its repeated lyric ‘You are not what you own’ sent shivers down my spine. The album is a rage against greedy corporations and menacing capitalism – it is a manifesto of the DIY ethic that the band embodies. When I saw them at Manly Youth Centre in 1995 they carried their own equipment. The band and their music have shaped my moral outlook as an adult.

I have recently been toying with the idea of applying for a Head Teacher of English position and was asked by a friend why I wanted to take that step. My answer was simple: Two reasons – power and money. That response seems counter to what I’ve said in the past about my personal ethos, and what I will say below about performance pay. So I’ll explain it to you. I want the power to enact real educational change on a larger scale than just in my classroom. As a classroom teacher I can’t expect my colleagues to change their teaching practice to be more relevant and authentic for students. I can only ask. I need more money because we are a one-wage family whilst my husband studies. A HT wage (which is still quite modest) will mean I don’t have to supplement my main income by working a second or third job – doing that now makes it very, very difficult to give myself fully to my school and my classes.

I don’t agree with performance pay. Why? When I graduated with my BA in 2003, I didn’t know what profession I could enter. A major in Philosophy and Performance Studies does kinda limit your options. When the career advisor suggested teaching it seemed to make sense. I had always enjoyed working with teenagers at the Manly Youth Centre and knew that I never wanted to work for a corporation. Being a public servant seemed to fit with my distrust for materialism and my desire to contribute meaningfully to my society. Teachers don’t get paid much, they work hard and they make a difference.

But what if someone came in and applied a corporate structure to that system I loved so dearly? What if someone came in and said, ‘Hey, you want more money? Just get better results for your students and we’ll pay you more.’ Sounds easy, after all, we’re all dedicated hard-working teachers who don’t get paid for all of the extra and after-hours stuff we do. Shouldn’t we be rewarded? But scratch the surface a little and you see how dodgy this idea is. Kids aren’t products. You can’t ‘mould’ a child into a little A+ ready to be inspected by Mr Student Inspector to see how much they have ‘grown’ under your tutelage. I don’t want any teacher in my school to start equating student ‘success’ on external examinations with dollar signs. Someone once said to me, ‘We’re in the business of 5s and 6s. The HSC is our job.’ I wanted to hit him. I am NOT in a business. I am an educator. I will not see students as products. I will not have my own children viewed as products by adults. I will not compete with my colleagues and friends to get the best kids in my class each year so I get the best results and make some more cash.

Competition kills community.

I just want to leave you with the lyrics to Fugazi’s song ‘Styrofoam’. These words remind me of why I am a ‘public servant’ and why I will never work for a corporation and spend my life competing with others to be the best, the most powerful or the most wealthy:

There are no more races to be run
There are no numbers left to be won
Everybody’s down we pulled each other down
There never was a truth to be found
We are all bigots so full of hatred
We release our poisons
There are no more cultures left to slide
There are no more people to be tried
We’re in our minds five billion pieces so defined
Read it in a book, it was underlined
We are all bigots so full of hatred
We release our poisons like styrofoam