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Education Fri Jan 13 2012

How About a Meritorious Workplace in Our Schools?

I am not a gambler. I hate the uncertainty of betting money on something unpredictable. It makes me feel jittery and off-balance. I have a teacher personality in that respect. I like structure and routine. That is different from say some day trader who takes risks on a daily basis. I'm sure those Type A, go-getter-guys are really good at those risky, high-profile jobs. Some people thrive on uncertainty and the chance to make it big. Kinda like they like cocaine. Same chemical in the brain, no?

I don't work that way. And you know what? Thank god I don't! That's the reason why I chose teaching as a profession, at least in part. See, some of what makes me good at my job is that I provide a little space of stability for my students coming from chaotic, troubled backgrounds. If one of those day traders were to do my job, I'm pretty sure they would not only fail miserably, they would probably scare the children.

Different strokes for different folks is all I'm saying.

But for some reason, people making education policy in this country keep on trying to bring merit pay, with its big bonuses for success and punishment for failure into teaching.

What. A. Dumb. Idea.

First of all, the idea of merit pay only really would work if teachers were not already giving their all. That is, if teachers were purposely holding back what they could be doing for their students 'cause, well, they didn't feel like it.

Um, have these guys ever met a real, live, flesh-and-blood teacher?

Almost every teacher I know gives 110% everyday for their kids. These are the kind of people who spend thousands of dollars of their own money to supply their classrooms. You see, the way it works is that the day traders get brand-new bathrooms at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on the taxpayer dime while CPS teachers supply their own soap for the kids to wash their hands. Yeah, that's fair. But teachers do it because it's the right thing to do.

Those day traders also seem to have a lot of time to go out and party hard after work. Most teachers spend their evenings and weekends-- their own personal time, mind--planning lessons, grading papers, calling parents, and gathering supplies.

That's the kind of people teachers are. Good people. Caring people. Selfless people. People who are not about the money.

And I don't want that to change. I don't want the money grubbers in my profession.

So you know what? Get that crappy bonus pay away from me. I like that teachers aren't motivated solely by money. (Pay me enough, and then let it be, I say.) I like that we aren't gambling-loving fiends. I like that we tend to be meeker, more reflective, more collaborative, more humble people.

You know what I want instead of the promise of some extra pay? I want a workplace that is actually functional. I want a boss who doesn't berate me and even thinks to give a compliment now and then. I want to be rewarded for qualities like loyalty and collegiality, not my drive to screw over the teacher next to me in order to push up meaningless test scores. I want the number of years I choose to stick around the school or district to mean something.

I want a workplace that doesn't suck! I don't want to be overwhelmed because there is too much to do and not enough time. I don't want to wake up in the morning dreading the day ahead. I hated that when I worked for CPS, the work was never, ever finished. I hated that the kids had so many problems, I needed about 10 of me to meet their needs. I want to feel effective, I want the support to be effective, and I want my effectiveness to be acknowledged. Just not with money.

And nevermind that merit had been tried again and again, and it has NEVER worked. I'm not even talking about the buckets of research (See Larry Ferlazzo's comprehensive list for The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea).

I know I was a little hard on the day traders here. Ever since I found out that that terrible man who is now our mayor used to be one, I lost any respect I had for the profession. That, and I was a little peeved after you fellows helped break the global economy. Not cool. (S'ok though, we'll just tell everyone it's teacher pensions that are bleeding budgets dry.) Sorry guys, but you're the kind of people who can take it, yeah?

I suppose there's a place for the day trader types. Just not in the classroom.

Katie Osgood is a special education teacher at a Psychiatric Hospital in Chicago. Before that, she taught in a Chicago Public School and in Japan.
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Jack Sullivan / January 15, 2012 1:59 PM

Nice truth...only the teacher knows the good they do, and what they know is only the tip of the iceberg. My merit pay has been the good thoughts, and Karma, from students I've taught over the years; those quiet moments when they remember me fondly...and they do...and I know they think of you that way too. Happy New Year.

Jack / January 28, 2012 12:32 AM's me...the guy who wrote the comment above...wait... I'm not finished... when I said "nice truth" I meant your honesty, and when I said "only the teacher knows the good they do" I was wrong and disrespected every kind word that has ever been extended to me by parents, students, colleagues, administrators, politicians, family, friends and so many that have thanked me, supported me and wished me well whether I was at my best or having a tough day. What I do, what you do, what all good teachers do, comes from the heart and soul. If we can be recognized with more money, I'm all for it, but not in a way that compromises or contradicts why many of us entered this alluring and elusive profession in the first place. It's a lot like golf, sometimes you chunk it, sometimes you fly it into the water, sometimes you drive it into the woods and set yourself on a path you never thought you'd be on that day. But, then you hit that one shot, the one that seemingly hangs in the air, in an awestruck and eternal silence, and sticks the green to keep you coming back day after day. I got caught up in the emotion of what you wrote and I hope, for us all, that things in this country get better, that we may live life, learn and teach in the fresh, free air of our great democracy. I am optimistic that we, as adults, will do right by our children. If only they could pay us like P.G.A. Pros.

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