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


11 thoughts on “Performance Pay for teachers: my two cents

    • Hey Dan!

      Thanks for that info – I think that’s a better approach than results BUT who determines competence using the criteria? People can easily BS their way through that stuff and who has the time to keep filling in paperwork to justify their ability to teach well? Is the govt planning on giving schools an allowance for teachers to have time off to prepare said application for meeting standards? Looks like the Institute of Teachers has their hand in this too – I’m so glad I started teaching before 2004. It would piss me off massively to have to justify my competence by writing about myself for pages and pages.

      You’re right – there are some people who are TERRIBLE teachers but excellent at paperwork and making things look ‘pretty’. Grrrr!

  1. I had a big reply typed up but then something happened and I lost it, so here goes!
    You are spot on here Bianca. When will they realise that a failed measure like this won’t improve teacher quality? Wait, that is why we all got into teaching, the money! (I wish there was an emoticon for ‘dripping with sarcasm’). My suggestion: employ MORE teachers. You don’t win a war without a lot of foot soldiers! Or employ some pencil pushers to do all the admin stuff we have to do so that we have more time to plan great learning experiences. Hey pollies, come be a teacher for a term, learn what it is like to be working to create the future!
    That is my two cents, now we have 6. 😉

    • Oh no – I hate that! You gotta copy before you click ‘send’, lol.
      I agree – if we had people to do all of the paperwork for us, we could have more time to develop better learning experiences for our students.
      I think what we should be copying from Finland is the amount of PD time teachers get – isn’t it something like one third of their time spent in PD?
      Silly govt 😦

      • I think these last two points are more important than teacher income. Ever noticed that it’s the fierce unionists who seem to think pay is the key ingredient? Anyway, I’m still not sure where I sit on the pay argument. I’d happily freeze wages for two or three years if it meant putting double that amount in teacher’s hands to choose resources that they can keep regardless of where they teach! Imagine being able to select teachers based on what they can bring to your school. Finally, my only argument for a change to the pay structure is this, I’m completely over the ‘experienced’ teachers earning more, doing less and blocking change. Doing something for a long time doesn’t actually prove you’re good at it!

  2. Well said Bianca. Could you set your sights a little higher and become a Principal? I’d love to work in a school that educates students, encourages life long learning, and has collegial staff who work together to achieve those aims. A school where we are not simply workers on the assembly line, sorting the product into university packages.Go on, think about it. Let me know where to send my CV.

    • Thanks Cathy :o)
      I’ll only be a principal when I start my own school – in fact, at that school there wouldn’t be a principal cos it’d be a community of learners and there would be no one leader, lolz. One day – you and Pat will be the first on the list to come and be part of the school (which we wouldn’t call a school 😛 )!

  3. Had to reply to this. Firstly, a disclaimer: I have just returned to a Head Teacher position having worked on accreditation at the Institute of Teachers for the last three years.

    There was pretty much only one thing Bob Carr ever said about education that I agree with: if someone can show me a foolproof method of deciding which teachers are “better” than others, then I’ll happily come on board with performance pay.

    What Dan H said above is true: if you look closely at the DEC’s Local Schools, Local Decisions documentation, they do NOT propose a performance pay structure. What they do propose is to change the method of moving up the pay scale from a years-of-service model to a meeting-standards model. Now as I said above, I’ve worked with standards and accreditation systems for the last three years, and they can be quite rigorous. I personally think that paying those who meet higher standards more is a better system, however there are currently only four levels of the Standards, so not sure how that will translate in practice.

    I’m very happy that the system of accreditation beyond Professional Competence is quite rigorous, and involves multiple forms of evidence (some of which is independent), giving the decision makers a sound basis for those decisions. The system at Professional Competence could be strengthened, particularly by School Education Directors taking a more active role in making their decisions.

    Like you, Bianca, I am quite happy to have the power and the money. I wanted to be a HT from the day I started teaching, mostly because I have firm views on the way faculties should be run. In my years since, I’ve translated that into wanting to be a Principal. I, too, am sick of the blockers who sit there on the highest pay rate doing bugger all. I think the DEC realise this is the case and are at least trying to do something about it. At least I hope so.

    I doubt that the system is meant to be what you fear it will be. At least as long as Gillard doesn’t get her way!

    • Hi Glenn 🙂

      Thanks SOOO much for your comment – I told you I didn’t know much about the system, and then went and rambled on anyway, haha. I don’t have a perfect understanding of policies and politics but I do have a pretty clear vision of how I see education being impeded by introducing competition between teachers.

      If what you are saying is true, that the standards are effective, than perhaps the situation won’t be as dystopian as I put it. Unfortunately I don’t see ‘standards’ as being easy to judge and that is something I have seen my British and American colleagues struggle to manage in their current standards based systems (of which, again, I have little knowledge apart from the reflections and lamentations of friends). Despite the rigour of the system, I still believe that it can be manipulated. I don’t have faith in a system that requires a rigourous assessment process that fails to allocate extra funding/time to teachers in order to make that process feasible and effective for teachers. With ‘local decisions’ principals are responsible for budgets – how will the allocation of funding to the teacher accreditation process be monitored? What if a principal decides the money is best spent elsewhere and teachers are left to complete the accreditation process in their own time? Then, ironically, the quality of teaching will decrease as teachers take on more of a work load as a means to make a more money – money they are entitled to for working harder/better.

      I really do appreciate your comment and I am glad that you have faith in the system. I am very glad that I have not had to prove my ‘competence’ by filling in paperwork and attending boring seminars/conferences. I’m sorry, but the feedback I get from my colleagues who have experienced the process tell me it is tiring, frustrating and hasn’t enhanced their teaching. I see that as a BIG problem.


      • All good questions. Currently, the decision makers at the higher levels are Regional Directors together with a primary and secondary principal released to make the judgements. So I hope that sits nicely with you re: your point about time and money.

        As far as teachers seeking the accreditation are concerned, there is no release time per se, but that’s because the levels are voluntary. I can see this could be a problem if all of a sudden money were attached, but I guess my quick answer to that is that most teachers I know do Masters’ and EdD’s/PhD’s in their own time too. Does the quality of their teaching decline?

        All this could change now that AITSL has put out a draft national accreditation process, and of course we still have no real idea what the DEC is planning re: their altered pay structure. All we can do is wait and see.

  4. Hi Bianca,

    Thank you for writing and sharing your post. I don’t know much about Australian politics or, more specifically educational politics, but the corporatization of education is all too familiar. It seems to be a pandemic now, doesn’t it? It’s encouraging, though, to know that all over the world there are teachers like you and your colleagues who are resisting the attempt to impose this dehumanizing structure on our students.

    As I read your post, I kept hearing all kinds of lyrics in my head, from The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” to Fugazi’s “Blueprint”: “Nevermind what’s been selling/It’s what your buying and receiving undefiled.” I also thought of something I often consider when I start to question why I continue to fight the sometimes Sisyphusian battle that being a public school educator can be: “Are we consumers or citizens? Is this the democracy you wanted?” (from the introduction to a booklet about the Zapatistas) We have to continue to challenge a system that attempts to commodifiy humanity; that looks at human beings as numbers, children as test scores, and attempts to strip a profit from any resource it can access, from any “need” it can manufacture. Our students, our communities, and our future deserve better.

    As Fugazi and others would advocate, we need to do it ourselves. We need to resist the mainstream. We need to defy. In the words of Minor Threat, we must “stand up and be counted.”

    I thank you and all those educators around the world who resisting corporate control and inspire me. All are “punk rock teachers”–regardless of musical preference.

    Rise above,


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