George Lucas Educational Foundation
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With the merit pay debate swirling around Florida, this week's #edchat topic hit close to home: How should successful and innovative teaching be rewarded?

As a consultant and former elementary school principal, the notion of reward for great teaching struck a chord. I begin to think about recent headlines in this country that propose merit pay and reward for high test scores. I was concerned that this topic could be contentious. What I found instead was an out-pouring of emotion and zeal for the topic and as the tweets went flying by, as usual, this #edchat did not disappoint.

Many statements began to be posted by participants as the issue of reward for teachers emerged:

@rliberni So, how should teachers be rewarded for excellence? Or should they?

@olafelch: I asked my headmaster today. He said satisfaction in a job well done was reward enough!

@flourishingkids:Teachers should be rewarded with more opportunities to develop passions and integrate with their teaching.

@MatthiasHeil A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. (Henry Brooks Adams) --- that's ample reward for me.

@akenuam:Teachers should be rewarded with respect first and foremost, creative freedom next, and theres always the salary conversation.

@Mamacita:I would be ecstatic to be rewarded by being sent to the conferences of my choice!

As the chat continued defining the reward was difficult. Some felt that it was the pat on the back, others the opportunity to present at conferences, still others thought that a monetary reward should be in place. Then a new theme emerged...that of the "innovative teacher" receiving the more "challenging" child in their class, as a reward.

@ShellTerrell:To play devil's advocate- Does any1 believe rewards not effective for teachers, that the passion to teach itself is enough?

@MissCheska:That's a toughie - in my observations, the good effective teachers get more workloads!

@ShellTerrell: My experience as well!

@evab2001: How true!

@TheNerdyTeacher:`I agree.The better you do your job, the more responsibility you get. Is that a reward?

As the discussion quickly moved along, debates on what was an innovative teacher and rewarding great teaching did too. Many good points were raised from rewarding good teachers with things from merit pay, mentoring opportunities, student loan forgiveness, college tuition, to new technology, and candy bars. In the end, one last important issue came through...the need for administrators to recognize and support teachers...the issue of reward for the teacher from the administrator coming in the form of Trust.

Many felt that the best reward they could receive as a teacher was the trust from their administrator that they were doing a great job!:

@michellek107: Reward could be as simple as recognition from admin and commun., additional leadership opportunities.

@dlourcey: I absolutely agree. Leaders need to be aware that the people who get the vision done need to be encouraged and edified

@jhedger276:I would even take an apple right now! Some days admin need to know their actions are very demoralizing

@tomwhitby:Good and successful teachers should be rewarded with support, encouragement ,and recognition.

@solivo11: I would feel most rewarded with knowing that admin has my back and will give me leeway to be innovative.

@seanbanville: Management listening to teachers and trusting them enough to follow teacher initiatives would make teachers feel valued.

@rliberni: I think praise from students, satisfaction with a job well done and some recognition from peers and 'masters' should do it!

As in all #edchats, I left that day eager and excited for more exchanges. The issue of "rewards for great teaching" will continue long past the end of the event. It will continue to hang in the air and be tossed around in tweets for days, weeks and months ahead. One last tweet that I felt was reassuring and defining was this one that I leave you with from @doctorjeff: "KEEP FAITH: We as teachers need to embrace this noble profession & why we joined, even if the educational system we work for may not." I think that sums it up.

Check out the rest of the #edchat transcript. If you have never participated in an #edchat conversation, please join us on Twitter every Tuesday at 12 p.m. EST/6 p.m. CET or at 7 p.m. EST/1 a.m. CET.

Final note: I'm facilitating the New Teacher Connections group here. We have over 140 new teachers in this group, working to dialogue and collaborate. To support them even further, I'm excited to announce that we'll be launching a New Teacher Chat on Twitter in May. Look for it soon under the hash-tag: #ntchat. If you're a new teacher, or want to help mentor new teachers, I hope you'll join us!

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Brenda's picture

There are so many issues with merit pay - I'm not sure there is any way for it to ever be fair. Progress and success is different for everybody! What is a gain for one student is not even a drop in the bucket for another student. If states go to merit pay- who is going to teach the students who have a record of little success. If after having 5 different teachers (gen ed and special ed) a student still is making little gain - who is to blame? What about really low functioning students - how are you going to measure gains for them? I've known students who don't learn to even swallow their food until they're in high school. What about an ADHD student who can't focus for more than 30 seconds (no exaggeration) - and the parents refuse to medicate the child?? What teacher is going to want that child in their class, if their work is judged on that students performance? I'm an inclusion teacher - I'm bounced back and forth between three classrooms - is it really fair for my pay to be so dependent upon other teachers? There are many students that have several teachers - how are you going to determine whose teaching is the "effective teaching" that made that student successful or the "poor teaching" that made that student fail?? There are just too many issues and too many unanswered questions. I also know of a lot of teachers who have said that they will either refuse to teach SpEd kids - or they're just going to get out of teaching. These are teachers with a good track record, who have proven their effectiveness with students.

Michael Brown's picture

I recently watched a re-run of Cheers in which Woody demands that Rebecca (the bar manager) give him a raise. Instead she tricks Woody into accepting a new job title instead of more money. For me, words of praise and certificates of appreciation only go so far. Want to reward me for my hard work, dedication, and innovation? Pay me enough so that I can pay my bills, take my family out for a nice dinner once in a while, and even go on a vacation.

Andrea Weis's picture
Andrea Weis
7th and 8th grade Latin in Cincinnati, Ohio

The messages you received really sum it up: we're in it because we get out of it what we put into it. When we see results, we're satisfied. I'm one of those people who thinks that an intrinsic reward is a reward-the good feeling you get, the satisfaction and pride, is the reward. Beyond that, what would actually make my life easier as a teacher? Free dry cleaning and car washes. Add some lawn service and then I'd have 15 extra hours a week to devote to differentiation and learning opportunities for my students. Or heck, the pay that allows other professionals to afford dry cleaning, car washes and lawn service (even in this economy-which you have to add because everyone is suffering).

But what parent WOULD NOT need that? Which brings us to. . . . can we engage parents to meet some of these needs, or do we really need to pay a professional to meet needs that fall within a parent's zone of influence? I'm a parent and a teacher, and I surely do not expect my children's teachers to teach the students to do homework, record tasks on a long term basis, and set goals. That's my job as a parent. However, I teach it in my classroom because parents are not teaching it at home.

And affording a vacation? You must be kidding. We haven't even eaten out in 4 months.

Sara's picture

Teachers obviously don't work for the money. Teaching is a vocation, not a job. However, why not offer teachers discounted or free classes at local state colleges?. Not only would you be rewarding teachers, students and schools would benefit as well.

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

We know from research that effective schools are made up of collaborative environments, a culture of oneness, and servant leadership. Rewards in this case should be given to the school as whole and not individual teachers. While there may be more responsibility for reading and writing placed on core academic teachers, their colleagues in the gym, business academy, and shop can support the curricular initiatives.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

When I think of teacher raises, bonuses, and general pay being tied to student test scores, I wonder, what if we paid police officers in accordance to the number of traffic tickets they wrote? This practice would open the door for corruption and deceit, I'm afraid. It would do the same with teachers and schools. Sticks and carrots have proven not effective in raising student achievement. I agree with Dr. Todd's comment that what we do need to focus on is growing collaborative environments, a culture of oneness, and skilled, supportive leadership in our schools.

That said, teacher salary is too low! It's by far the most difficult and challenging job I've ever held. I think it'd be great to create a "Teach for a Day" program and invite policy makers, school board members, parents, and administrators, to step into the shoes of a public school teacher for one day. Experiencing firsthand all the planning, decisions, and hard work that goes into a single day of being an educator, would open a lot of eyes -- and hearts -- I am certain.

Liz Wisniewski's picture

I wrote the below response to a policy blog that was in favor of the Florida proposal on merit pay - it works well here too.
I am all for changing educator evaluations, tenure, and compensation, as I firmly believed that the current structures are severely inefficient, resulting in the current wave of frustration and anger focused at school systems and the profession (I use this word loosely) of teaching. However, the proposals that have been put forth by Obama's education department and Florida supporting performance pay and elimination of tenure are the worst kind of reforms - those that purport to be improvements because they are changes - not good changes, just changes. I wonder if the policy developers have given any thought to the perverse incentives some of these plans could result in.
I am a third grade teacher, starting my fifth year in this role after spending twenty years as a rates negotiator in the electric industry - and I have been giving thought to how a pay for performance plan could change my teaching strategies. Let's consider that I am to be hired in at a barely livable wage (I was) knowing that the primary way to increase my salary was increasing standardized test scores, I would make some of the following changes to how I now teach.
First, there would be the way I handled Charlie. Some background on Charlie: very very bright, very very low motivation reinforced by difficult family situation. I would not be spending much time on Charlie, he would definitely be left behind. The year I had Charlie, I had many other students who I could of eked a greater percentage increase out of. I just was not going to get much bang for my buck with Charlie, better to focus on Matthew - while less bright, Mathew was having a year of movement!
Also, I would minimize focus on the Elises in my care. Elise is a smart little girl but the family is going through some nasty custody suit traumas. One never knows how things are going to go with Elise - there could be an incident before testing and that could blow my chances on a percentage increase - better to focus on the Sarah's - good stable home life, solid student - good gains.
Last (but not least - I could go on and on about strategies - I might even write a book!) I would talk to my principal about getting rid of inclusion classes - if not officially, unofficially through student classroom placement. We teachers know doing differentiated instruction is tough. It takes a considerable amount of time. We do it because it provides students with a diverse learning experience, we simply do not believe that it makes them good people to be tracked in a grade as early as third. However, we also know that it is not the best way to teach for score gains. Ideally classes would be homogenous, this would allow me again to get the best score increases.

I haven't even mentioned how I would get rid of all those touchy feely things like the "curiosity/creativity/thinking" activities I do. Let's face it, while such things do improve test scores in the long haul, they are not as time effective as a Kaplanesque laser focus on testing strategies. I know, Uncle Kaplin helped me years ago improve my GRE scores by 100 points!
The point is, I do know how to raise those test scores. The question is do you really want me to?

brian cleary's picture
brian cleary
Library/media specialist in Camas Washington

. Rather than No Child Left Behind what if we focus on making it our mission to have No Child Without Growth (NCWG). The idea is more centered on our efforts to help children from where they are.
We still need benchmarks, and tests to measure our approach to those standards. NCWG would be more individually based. My job as a teacher is to help every child grow academically. If a kid walks into my room unable to read my job is not to increase his score on standardized questions regarding reading comprehension of nonfiction text. My mission is to make him a better reader, to increase his skill set, to make him a better learner, to help him grow.
This idea also adds pressure on the other end of the spectrum. No Child Left Behind, as, the title suggests, focuses on those behind. NCWG would require that we challenge those "gifted" students. It has been my experience that those students go largely unchallenged until high school.
Special Education also benefits from this individualized type of plan. IEP's (individualized education plan) is the life blood our SpEd programs. The idea of changing educational reform law without increasing the workload of Special education professional causes an audible cheer throughout the world of the over worked, and over looked.
A program that measured student growth over time; rather than one that offers comparison to an arbitrary standard also creates a conversation point for the discussion of merit pay.
I admit this is a general "big picture" sketch of my idea. I am also reminded that NCLB, as a general idea, sounded good too... but hey they are not paying me for these brilliant ideas.

wade mcmillan's picture

If I have the skill and endurance to get a low performing student to improve to an acceptable level, then I should be justly compensated.
By compensation I mean money. Not certificates, kind words, or a pat on the back because none of that feeds my family or pays my bills. I don't know how the idea of teachers being able to simply live on the satisfaction of a job well done ever gained acceptance. Give the highest pay to the teachers who establish a measureable pattern of improvement with the most challenging students in the most challenging schools and you might see student achievement soar overnight.

Stefan Cohen's picture

The biggest fallacy in the merit pay debate is that we have sufficiently qualified administrative staff with the time, interest, and understanding of instruction to make the judgements that will be used to determine merit pay. Raw data can't do it either. If I want my students to get higher test scores, I can do it, but it would lower the quality of my instruction. I have teacher and administrator colleagues who are skilled practitioners of manipulating the numbers. They would reap the rewards of a system based on test data.

A system of evaluation that might work involves peer review by carefully vetted master teachers, that provides incentives for striving for the highest standards in teaching (National Board of Professional Teaching Standards -, includes incentives for high quality professional development, and provides leadership opportunities for teachers without necessarily leaving the classroom.

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