I adore Obama and feel that he is spot on in so many ways when it comes to moving education forward in America to better meet the demands of the next generation.
However, I keep hearing him say “we need to do a better job of rewarding talented teachers” but I don’t believe that the key to national success and achieving our educational aims preeminently lies in figuring out a way to pay good teachers more money. In fact, I believe that we can make our biggest and best strides by simply better empowering our nation’s best educators. What we want are tools, resources, some personal freedom to use our own professional discretion as to how and when to apply our craft and not to have the penultimate evaluation of our school or our own individual competence as educators be determined by preposterous bubble tests.
Do I want more money? Of course I do. But if that was my sole driving force I never would have entered into this field. (I’d have become a Wall Street investment banker — soulless, rapaciously greedy, ridiculously over-compensated and self-righteous enough to believe that I deserve to make in one year what it takes the average American teacher, firefighter, nurse, or cop to make in 25 years).
Will better compensation help? Yes. I think the answer is self-evident. Right now our best and brightest aren’t choosing to go into the field of schooling after college and low pay is certainly a factor in this decision making. However, I never hear anybody voice the opinion, “Ya know, if my school district paid me more, I’d work harder.” What I do hear is people griping about how they are handcuffed by this overwhelmingly silly mandate to utilize one-size-fits-all materials (can ya hear me textbooks and scripted curriculums?!) and how they pretty much hate the bubble tests, finding them to be a waste of time, of little or no authentic assessment use for improving true, meaningful achievement with real, individual kids, and how they’d love to have some really good professional development that assisted them in improving their craft.
We want to get better. There are ways to get better. But, as all teachers know, the only way to get better is through more schooling and if there is one truism about all good teachers it’s that they understand the value of perpetually being a learner. We never know it all.
Empower us, Mr. Obama. And don’t let merit pay become a red herring.