This morning Deborah Netolicky published this thought-provoking piece, Performance pay for teachers will create a culture of fear and isolation, in The Conversation. I’ve seen numerous arguments both for and against performance pay play out over the years. Debs articulates many reasons against it in her piece.

Broadly, I’m against it, too. The justifications for it don’t gel with my view of the world, a view which has been informed by my experience regarding motivations for actions and interactions between people. The research doesn’t support it either, probably because there’s something wrong with the justifications (Debs has links to some of the research in her article). I feel it’s an attempt to marketise a professional activity (or set of activities) that is better served through collaboration than competition, and by maintaining high expectations of all teachers. The role of a teacher is too complex and fluid to determine that this activity or task should be paid at this rate, and achieved in this period of time, than another activity or task. The relationship between a teachers’ actions and student learning is also tentative at best. Education, unlike science, involves interactions between related factors that are not tangible or concrete.

As a wise friend of mine has suggested:

Teachers haven’t been holding back their best teaching for the day they get paid more.

However, as I’m wont to do whenever a challenging proposition comes up, I found myself considering what it would take for me to agree to it.

So here’s my list of conditions under which I’d begrudgingly accept to be paid based on my performance as a teacher. I’d love to see yours, or if you have any reasons against my conditions, please let me know.

  1. The Gonski model is used for funding schools themselves. The Gonski model considers the needs of students in an attempt to increase economic equity. I don’t mind if independent schools don’t lose any of their funding, as long as public schools are funded proportionally equitably to those schools. That’s an expensive way to go about funding schools, though.
  2. Teachers overall are paid commensurate to their responsibilities, qualifications, duties, and workload. Back in 2008, the Business Council of Australia estimated this to be about $120 000 p.a. for an expert or senior teacher. I wonder how much greater this will be with inflation?
  3. The difference between the salary for an “expert” or highest-performing teacher, whatever they’re called, and the salaries of other teachers are held by the school for release time that can be used for mentoring or coaching, or are invested in high quality professional development or learning (PL), including further higher education and leave relating to this. In effect, every teacher is allocated the top wage tier, but a proportion of that funding is directed towards the professional support required to help them improve and develop expertise. This would be especially useful for “novice” or beginning and establishing teachers, whose PL funds might be used for job sharing, time off class to meet with a mentor or coach (higher performing teachers), and to visit other classrooms. This would prevent arbitrary financial limits being placed on the number of teachers who can be designated as “expert.” Teachers unwilling to improve or engage with PL can and should be offered a plan to move out of the teacher workforce.
  4. Casualisation of the teacher workforce is decreased to a reasonable maximum limit (I’m not sure what that is, but we are well over it), with a clause that says teachers appointed to particular contexts do have a 3-6 month probationary period that ensures suitability of teacher to context (for example, remote communities or areas with a concentration of special needs). This ensures that teachers have access to support and capacity to improve; they are not constantly starting all over again.
  5. Teacher workload is reduced such that activities not related to teaching (including professional decision-making about the environments and interactions that enable teaching and learning to occur) and PL are minimised.
  6. Assessment of teacher performance is according to standards developed with and agreed upon by teachers, teacher associations (including unions), and researchers in the relevant fields. Assessment of teacher performance is a shared responsibility of teachers in a community, and not a decision made by one person, or by someone outside of any one school. The exception might be teachers in very small schools, who could work in a cluster with other local schools (for a given value of “local”; in Queensland, a one-teacher school might not have any other school within a 200km+ radius), negotiated with and maintained by the teachers in those schools themselves. Student achievement measured via tests are not considered (though evidence of student development might in some way be considered where appropriate).

What do you think? What would you add to this list? What would you take away? What justifications can you provide?

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