While I am writing on the “Yes” side of this debate, my real feeling regarding whether teachers should or should not be compensated for student achievement is “Yes, but not at this time.” As a teacher, I would LOVE to be further compensated for the students who achieve the objectives of my classroom. However, teaching is not a cut and dry profession where quality teaching equals student improvement and poor teaching equals student non-improvement. Teaching high school has shown me that one teacher can have different classes during the day that respond completely different to the same lesson. While it is possible to alter each lesson to fit the needs of the classes this is not always the solution as some students just flat out do not want to be in school. If a group of students who don’t want to be in school are together in one class it becomes very difficult to provide the students with a quality education. Great teachers will be able to motivate these students with relevant and meaningful lessons, but even that may not solve the overall problems of the students. Teachers can be held to a higher level of accountability when our educational community (i.e. all of us) improve a few other things.
First, fingers need to stop pointing and we all need to get down to the business of the children. It is easy to place blame on teachers. After all, their job sounds so simple. Just teach. It is extremely easy to assume that if the students are not learning there must be a problem with the teaching. As a teacher, I can feel the fingers pointing at me from all angles – students, parents, administrators, government, community, and even other teachers – when my English Language Learners don’t pass the state assessments. Yet, from where I stand I have done all I could to help the students. I would rather point my finger somewhere else – but in looking for that person to point the finger at I have realized there is no one place to put blame for student failure. The education of our children is a community effort. It begins at home with reading to and interacting with your children and it continues to the schools with an honest assessment of what each student needs to improve and a feasible plan to get each student to the next level. Parents and teachers need to be honest with each other and trust each other – both groups need to get on the same page and work as a team to help each child. Student improvement continues in the community on our sports teams, in our museums and attractions, in our libraries, and our religious and social organizations – the community groups are frequently influential because students CHOOSE to be there. While the government needs to be honest in what our community needs to improve, no one needs to be belittled in order to achieve the improvement. Our children do not need to be compared to students in another country who take a different test, have a different culture of learning, and are faced with different challenges. Finally, our students need to take responsibility for themselves. This is difficult – and probably goes COMPLETELY against the nature of children. Yet, if everyone else does their part, most of the students will take on the challenge of improving themselves.
Second, the assessments need to be more meaningful, more authentic, and more valid. I do not have an innate problem with standardized tests. However, the tests that I have been exposed to do not always seem to be created to judge whether the students have learned or if they are just good at taking a test. I prefer a more student based form of assessment, such as a portfolio. Portfolio assessments look at what students have been able to achieve over a particular number of years. With all of the technology that we have available students could include an infinite variety of examples of what they are capable of as part of their portfolio. Since I work with English Language Learners, I am a bit sensitive to whether my students’ abilities are being seen by my school community. Looking solely at the results of our standardized test, we are a group of losers who cannot meet our goals. Yet through looking my students’ work over their high school career, people are amazed at what we have accomplished. Many teachers who work with Special Education students also prefer other forms of assessment than the standardized format. The term standardized means that everyone should have been taught and learned the same information or skills. This is a noble idea, but in reality our children do not all need the same information. For teachers to be able to show students can pass the test they may have to ignore what the students really want to learn or need to learn – even with standardized curriculum and standardized standards to go with the standardized tests we still won’t have standardized students.
Finally, students see many people throughout a school day. It is difficult to separate the classroom teacher from the others with regards to student achievement. My students have eight different teachers – minimum – in a school year. How would it be determined which was or was not responsible for their success? Would it be me because I teach the actual subject that they are tested in? Or would it be their art teacher who has worked just as hard to get the students to read and write in the art class? Or perhaps the credit can go to their soccer coach who checks every morning that they arrived to school on time? Or the lunch lady who is always there with a smile and listens to their problems? It is very difficult to determine who has made the impact that helped the student. Until there is a way to tell what has been done during the year to help the student it would be impossible to properly compensate the person who helped the student the most. Perhaps even with a sub-par teacher there is a tutor that is helping the student with their work – maybe even a tutor at the expense of the parent. Not that this reason is a definite strike against being compensated for student improvement, but rather another reason that people need to think outside the box when considering who to compensate.
Compensating teachers for doing a superior job is a wonderful idea. Most teachers would jump at the chance to be recognized for their students’ achievement. However, until the process can weed out who actually deserves the compensation, the assessments become more meaningful, and everyone in the students’ lives begins to work as a team for the good of the education of the child then it will be impossible to compensate fairly. Until the students’ actual progress is looked at rather than a number on a standardized test, we will not know if the student is making real improvement or just learning how to play the game. Looking at my students’ progress would not give me much of the additional compensation, but that would not show the full story. Looking at what my students are actually achieving would show their true improvement and would show that I am but one part in that improvement. Should teachers be provided with additional compensation for student improvement? Sure, but only when the system is fair to everyone involved from the lunch lady to the coach to the teacher to the parent and most importantly the student.