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

Stop teaching!

Did I get your attention?

Great.

I know this is nothing new to those of you who read my blog, but I just wanna say it anyway.

Teachers too often think about themselves.

Well I know I’m a grand-old hypocrite because after all this blog is named after me and is pretty much all about me. Feel free to add your thoughts about my ever-expanding ego as a comment below.

Right now, I’m concerned with the fact that teachers are doing all of the learning and leaving students to be passive receivers. We here all of this talk about passive and active learners. We are told that active learning = doubleplus good and passive learning = doubleplus ungood.

And then we see all of the beautiful resources teachers make for their students.

We see videos.

We see powerpoints.

We see websites.

We see blogs.

We see podcasts.

We see apps for iPhones and iPads.

We see games.

We see worksheets.

Teachers are talented, creative, knowledgeable … they show their students this all of the time.

Students are talented, creative, knowledgeable … we don’t let students show this to us all of the time.

When the new curriculum hits our shores teachers will run to create new programs and resources or they will run to access new programs and resources created by other educators.

Why don’t we just let the students be the creators?

Student as teacher.

Cool.

The Teacher-leader Conundrum

If you have read my previous post, you will know that in two days I will be presenting at the Office of School’s Conference – Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice. I was encouraged to submit and EOI for this conference by a twitter colleague, Ben Jones. Having spent a lot of time communicating with a fellow English teacher and twitter colleague, Troy Martin, I asked Troy to co-present with me on leading the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution at our schools. I found writing the EOI difficult, but was pleased (and nervous) that it was ultimately accepted.

(NOTE: If you want to ignore my ramblings, and help out a teacher-leader in need, scroll to my last paragraph! 😉 )

My vision for the conference was simple – share our experiences, our strategies and our visions for the future. Simple, right? Well, no. I created a PowerPoint (I personally loathe watching PPs but felt it was the best mode of delivery for me, using it as mostly timed slides, like a ‘movie’ with lots of images and short prompts for us to talk to) and shared it on twitter and this blog via SlideShare. I got feedback. It was positive. I felt content. Then I started to think, really think.

And then I read a series of twitter posts by my PLN nobility, Kelli McGraw, Jan Green, Tony Searl, Darcy Moore and Jacqueline Woodley. The focus was on leading change – just how can leaders encourage teachers to change from 20th century education model, to a 21st century education model?

Reading kelli’s blog post really cemented a position I had been edging towards in the last few weeks – at what point to I ‘let go’ and allow teachers to learn independently. How much professional development should I ‘deliver’ to teachers? Is being an enthusiastic and energetic promoter of blended learning enough? What level of change/adaption can I expect from my colleagues?

Kelli and Jan lead me to Roger Pryor’s blog post on leading from behind. It is odd how things come together at pivotal moments. Roger’s quotes from Mandella had a powerful effect on me. It reminded me of a video that Troy showed me via a skype chat one night many months ago – it’s in our presentation – Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy. I am lucky. I was a lone nut that was nourished by her environment, given time and resources to explore the changes in education that technology is facilitating. And then, through a combination of hard work, passion and sheer luck I attracted a handful of first followers. BUT I have let them down – I have failed to nourish them in return, failed to guide them, to grow them, to support them.

I’d like some help from my PLN and my new readers – how can I become a better leader now that I have surpassed the lone nut phase. I have shown them what is possible and why. Where to now? I feel change is important, but perhaps I have neglected focusing on why it is important. I need to refocus on outcomes – what is it that teachers desire from their learners. How do they do this now and how can technology be used to enhance this? Each teacher needs to be asked ‘why change what I’m doing’? How can I encourage MY learners (the teachers) to engage with this question honestly? How can I make it fun and meaningful when teacher time is so precious?

Thanks in advance. I present this Thursday.

🙂