Bonus Payments To Teachers-Good Idea?

The Australian government has decided to utilize a bonus system that rewards “excellent teachers.” This is the same philosophy that is supported by US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. After all, who can be against rewarding “excellent teachers?” I have taught for 55 years and during that time worked with over 12,000 teachers. I have also taught about 3,000 students at the secondary level. I have written textbooks for teachers and have served as a Dean of Education. What do I know about “excellent teachers?” Of course, one could pose the same question to anyone reading these words.

Any process of determining who is an “excellent teacher” must begin by posing several questions?
What is being taught?
What are the goals of the teacher?
Can these goals be measured at this point in time?
How do I measure what is being taught?
WHO does the measuring?

There are teachers who go through the curriculum and test what was taught. Statistically, 90% of all questions posed students from Kindergarten to Graduate school are RECALL of information that was taught. Less than ten percent of what happens in a classroom entails critical or creative thinking. It is extremely rare to be able to evaluate critical or creative teaching. Since principals are doing the observations of teachers this raises the question as to their qualifications to evaluate critical and creative thinking. How many principals, as teachers, taught in this manner?

A student teacher once posed a question to me in September. “How do you teach differently in May from September?” Wow, what a great question. In other words, if someone observed me in September they witnessed a teacher who was quite different from the teacher in May. By May, I emphasized more strongly critical and creative thinking on the part of my students. A high school student in my first period class once asked if she could come to my 7th period class due to a doctor appointment. As she left the room, she was shaking her head. I asked, why? She responded: ‘you are a completely different teacher at 2:30 p.m. from 9:00 a.m.” Of course, I am. Isn’t an actress different for the Wednesday Matinee audience than she is on opening night?

Few who seek bonus payments for “outstanding teachers” were “outstanding teachers?” themselves. Few grasp the long term goals of an “outstanding teacher.” I can measure how many cars you sold today, but I cannot measure how many students you impacted to become critical thinkers. Teaching is a long term process that does not readily lend itself to immediate success.

We argue for a focus on creating a curriculum which fosters critical and creative thinking. We argue for empowering teachers to assume more responsibility for deciding on what and how to teach. We argue for creating a TEAM of teachers rather than continuing the individual handling teaching and never discussing it with peers.