As we near the end of this school year, our days are filled with celebrations of our students and their accomplishments. Recently, the Denton Public Schools Foundation hosted graduating seniors who were tasked with writing a letter to an educator who impacted their life. During the “Educators of Influence” event, student after student shared how personal connections — some positive and some challenging — pushed them to excel.
When an individual enters the teaching profession, they understand the expectations of becoming a teacher. These expectations are of merit in and of themselves. A teacher’s job among other things is to instill a love of learning, create a mind of inquiry, discuss the possibilities of “what if” and to ensure students are learning.
When students are not learning, our teachers work in collaboration with our families to determine why, and rework lesson after lesson until our students “get it.” This is not just their job; it is their passion. The sooner a teacher helps find the fire of curiosity in a student, the more quickly each student can be set on the path to greatness.
This is the true meaning of merit; teacher recognition by students is the greatest reward a teacher can receive. When students speak of their teachers, they never mention performance on a high-stakes exam as the difference maker in their learning journey. To assume student performance on a one-day, high-stakes test should determine a teacher’s salary or a performance bonus for the school district undervalues the merit of a teacher.
During the past few weeks, our state Legislature has been discussing the idea of merit pay for teachers. I hear all the time, “Merit pay is a good idea.” The bonus structure in corporate America is often more than the salary drawn by the employee, because people are always paid for their performance — not the performance of their client, customer or their ability to get others to achieve. I cannot disagree with the bonus concept when it comes to sales, client acquisition, production, etc. However, when it comes to teachers, we have many variables to consider.
Our teachers assess students on a daily basis. They can tell you firsthand if students are learning what they need to learn. That is their job; that is their passion. To assume teachers will work harder or do more for more money is, in my opinion, an insult to their profession and their work. When it comes to the value our teachers provide, their compensation is not commensurate. We employ thousands of hardworking teachers, giving their all every day.
Our teachers’ commitment, passion and investment may not override all variables when defining student success. I observe some of our most talented teachers working in some of the most difficult situations creating lifelong learners, instilling a sense of community pride and fostering creativity, and in some cases, those efforts still do not translate to the high levels of performance we desire for our students. It is true that in the absence of a highly qualified/talented teacher, these variables have an even greater impact on student success.
Like you, our employee raises are usually eaten up with increases to insurance premiums, deductibles or other necessities resulting in less money in their pocket, which translates into fewer funds to spend in our community. If our state has funds to offer a merit pay system, perhaps we should consider getting all teachers to the average national salary before siphoning dollars to a merit system tied to a one-day, high-stakes test.
Our students are the message we send into the future, and our teachers shape that message each and every day. As graduation approaches, please join me in appreciation of the parents, family members and teachers in supporting them along the way. The future is not something you enter, it is something we create.