Teacher compensation is changing in Tennessee. Gone are the days of pay raises based on years of service alone. School districts in Tennessee, including Memphis, where I teach, will now be charged with establishing various parameters that will determine teacher pay raises. Years of service and advanced degrees can be included in the criteria, but districts must also include other factors such as student growth, as measured by standardized tests and other assessments. In other words, teacher compensation will be based in part on how well we’re doing our jobs. That sounds about right to me.
I have taught in Memphis for 10 years. Each year I have received an increase in accordance with the Memphis salary schedule that has averaged in the neighborhood of 2% per year. I should be angry that this guaranteed increase will be taken away, right? But I’m not.
Prior to my 10 years in teaching, I worked in corporate America, as a human resources manager (and other positions before this). I was not guaranteed an annual salary increase in those positions. Shocking, right? Instead, I was evaluated annually and my pay increase was based on my evaluation. If I performed poorly, I received a smaller increase or potentially no increase. If I worked harder than my neighbor and performed well, I would be rewarded for that effort. And indeed, what usually happened was I performed well and received a higher than average increase. It makes sense: Even if we’re not “in it for the money,” as humans we are nonetheless inclined to be motivated to do our best if we know our performance is going to impact our compensation.
So why are so many educators upset that districts will be changing from our old system to one that compensates them based on performance, like many other professions? I’m not sure. I do find it ironic that many teachers don’t want to be graded and rewarded for hard work and performance, since this is exactly what we do with our students. I want to be paid for my hard work and accomplishments. If I have a bad year, and it certainly can happen, I won’t lose money, but I might stay at the same salary level. In Memphis, as in other districts, pay increases will be based on teacher evaluations. My evaluation is based on several criteria: observations, student growth, overall school metrics, student surveys, and a professional development metric. If a teacher has a bad year on his student growth measure, he has a number of other areas that can bring his overall SCORE up. If a teacher has a bad year on all measures, it would certainly be a problem: for him, for his students, and for the school. A struggling teacher should be supported with professional development specifically targeted at his areas of weakness so that he can improve. After all, what good does an automatic raise for another year of service do for a struggling teacher’s students?
To make sure a performance-based compensation system fairly rewards all teachers, regardless of subject area and grade, I must add that we need to do a better job of measuring student growth for teachers in non-tested subject areas so that they are measured on the growth of their students—rather than just by school-wide SCOREs that are impacted by the performance of students they don’t teach. But this is a separate discussion.
In order to attract and retain the best talent, teachers need to be rewarded for excellent work—and supported when and where they need to improve. I am surrounded by some phenomenal teachers and I believe they should be paid more than an average teacher—especially if we want to keep them in the profession. I certainly want this opportunity.