NOW on Education: Should Teachers Receive Merit Pay?

To coin a cliche too-often used by politicians and the mega-rich, the majority of "Teachers Are Underpaid." I put emphasis on the majority. Having two adult children, I am eternally grateful to the teachers who fulfilled their passion by doing the job they were "called" to do. I don't believe that efficacious teaching is something one can do for the long haul if they don't possess a spiritual bent towards the cause. Teaching is truly a ministry. Either you possess the gift and couldn't imagine doing anything else or you're trying to do something in your own strength which soon wanes. I am certain this explains the high turnover rate for teachers. People who have the brainpower to do the work and pass the state exams for certification aren't necessarily wired to do this daunting task day in and day out for decades. There is a very critically weak link in the hiring qualifications for who gets a contract and who doesn't. I have observed the fervor and patience of some long-term substitute teachers who were able to maintain a classroom better than some tenured teachers; and, would find myself feeling sympathy because of her inability to pass an exam required by the state; thus denying her the salary and benefits of a contract teacher. Many a day, while writing a math problem on the board for 7-year-olds, I'd inwardly ask myself why someone would need a license to teach something as simple as 2+2=4. Of course, the higher the grade level, the more difficult the curriculum. But I really don't think the hiring specs for placing five-star teachers should necessarily start with a four-year degree and state boards. Teaching is an on-the-job process that books and lectures just can't deliver. Too often, book knowledge doesn't translate once thrown into the swim-or-sink pond of the classroom. I think the teachers should be tested on their knowledge base for the grade-level they are interested in teaching. I think instead of a sit-down interview with a person in human resources, and the false formalities that this process entails, a prospective teacher should be required to go into the interview prepared to teach a lesson to a group of adults who emulate things that children in a classroom would normally do. Or perhaps someone could design a virtual classroom for them to contain. Four years of college and state-boards do not give a clear picture of one's patience and fortitude. Too many teachers show up with a silent code of ethics, commonly called the 5th and 20th. It's these same teachers who use restroom breaks for the children as a reason to stand in the hall for 20 minutes, twice in the morning and again in the afternoon, to hold frivolous conversations while the students "go to the restroom." In the 80 minutes spent with these breaks, an entire reading and spelling lesson could have been completed. Yes, children need restroom breaks; but, it should not be a time of waste, no pun intended. Today, thousands of teachers flooded into school buildings. Far too many of them showed up with an agenda whose main goal was not making the world a better place for the youth entrusted to them. Effective teaching is a very serious responsibility. The end result does not rest with an end-of-year mastery exam for learners; but, the judgment of a Power far greater than principals and district leaders. I have seen firsthand what merit pay does to a staff. It turns otherwise sane people into vipers. I'd hate to think money could do that to a person; but, merit pay too often feels like "back-room" deals organized in the wee-hours of the morning when most teachers who value family over money miss out. I've seen where the most pay went to teachers with vanguard-type students; because, their students often did exceptionally well on exams. I'm encouraged that the current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is aware that No Child Left Behind, left behind a whole lot more than just children. Indeed, I suspect there were 50 states with 50 different goal posts. I believe all teachers should be paid a base salary. I think the starting salary for large, inner-city schools, should be $50K. I think too, that one's merit should be determined personally by parents and students who know first hand what a teacher is doing for the betterment of the cause. I think the "fat cats' " hands need to be removed from the pot. Fat cats are those people who show up early to have coffee with the principal to apprise them of "the word on the street (hallway)." Admittedly I'd hate for a teacher with tenure to lose the only job they'd ever known; but, I'd hate it even more so for the child who had to deal with a teacher who thought more of Neiman Marcus than them. I'm certain, based on observation, that most tenured teachers would have no trouble regaining their jobs, if Duncan opted to do an across-the-board turnaround process for the 95K schools in crisis. Things desperately need turning around in a lot of schools. I'm saddened that the stories "on the street" are so grim that few students fresh out of college want to take on this task. Perhaps the student-loan payoff incentive isn't strong enough to convince them to sign up. Sadly, they'd rather do a non-service type gig for less pay, than be responsible for 20+ beautiful faces and minds every day. It's a new day. There's a new hope for better schools across America. I really think charter schools are a positive move; but, I think they should be geared more so towards the non-traditional learner whose discipline issues might get in the way of their learning. That's a whole new conversation. On a final note, merit pay should not be decided by teachers and administrators; but instead, by the individuals who observe firsthand the difference a teacher has made in the life of their child. There's no greater honor than to hear a parent sing the accolades of a teacher who truly cares about children.