Performance pain

Viewpoint written by former PPTA president Ruth Chapman (1988-89) on performance pay and teaching.

Image of Ruth Chapman August 2011 PPTA NewsPerformance pay and teaching

I taught Heather Roy many years ago and recently she acknowledged me by describing me as an inspirational teacher. In the same article she outlined the advantages of performance pay "“ perhaps she believed that I would benefit from a performance-pay system.

It got me thinking . . .

Teachers contribute to student development in ways that may not be noticed or appreciated at the time.

I had to drag at least two clever but reluctant boys through my English class for them to gain their university entrance "“ I had the feeling that "old dragon" would have been their description of me. For other students my contribution may have been a boost to their self-esteem or a gift of respect, and maybe something I and the school did not notice at the time.

Teachers are in a powerful position and this requires careful reflection on the effect of our practice

I thought about the students who only remembered something from a teacher years after the event; in the same way I remember "gems" from my former teachers. On the other hand I thought about the power to do ill, to knowingly damage a student's self-esteem and confidence in themselves and their learning. This is the scary thing about teaching and why we should give teachers time to think carefully about their daily practice.

There are many interrelated facets to teaching, and teachers have different strengths

I reminisced about the fact that I loved the classroom but probably wouldn't have enjoyed today's more structured regime; and the fact that there were other teachers who were better than me at classroom management, assessment, administration and curriculum development. Would they have been beneficiaries of the performance element of their pay?

Teachers who stand up for their beliefs are not always popular with management

I was involved in the union from early on in my teaching career, at a branch, regional and national level. That didn't always make me popular in my school. Would the very teaching that inspired Heather Roy have been cancelled out by the demerits earned by standing up in unpopular situations? I feel proud to have been part of the campaign to abolish university entrance while working in a school where the principal strongly opposed the campaign.

Performance pay is unsuited to the complex art and practice of teaching

It got me remembering 1987 when we were first presented with an employer claim for performance pay and how we spent hours going over the arguments for and against it, and looking at the success or otherwise of those schemes in teaching. We concluded that they would only work if there were fair and objective criteria to assess performance and enough money to reward all those who got over the bar. When we were pushed, we fell back on the argument that performance pay might work in other industries but teaching was too complex, with too many hidden elements, for it to work.

Performance pay fails to recognise the intrinsic rewards of teaching - the joy and satisfaction

In the early 1990s, in the heyday of individualisation and merit schemes, I left teaching and went to work on an individual employment contract (collective arrangements did not exist) where we were forbidden to tell others what we were paid and where increases were based on performance. The system began with no apparent or transparent criteria and then changed to one where we set our own objectives and received the increase if we met them. I felt degraded by both.

It was as if I was seen as someone who would only work if there was an extrinsic reward at the end of it, as if no-one believed that a fair remuneration and the joy and satisfaction of doing a good job for its own sake were enough for me.

Performance pay fails to meet the tests of objectivity, fairness and rewarding all who may meet such requirements

I now work in a job under a collective employment agreement with a performance-pay element. The criteria are laid out in minute detail but they cannot cover all the skills and attributes which are important in all the jobs within the organisation – so they fail the first test that we set at PPTA over 20 years ago. There is also a fiscal cap so that not all the people who deserve the increase can get it, so they fail the second test as well.

Performance pay demeans work by assuming that the only pre-requisite for a job well done is money

I still do the best job I can when I go to work, just as I did when I was teaching Heather Roy. I would love not to feel demeaned each time the salary review comes round, regardless of whether I get the increase or not. The system implicitly assumes I will work well, only for the extra money. I would love not to feel angry that the performance-pay system I work in is the unsound practice we feared all those years ago.

Thank you for recognising me; but performance pay isn't the answer fair pay for all would be

So thanks Heather for letting me know that I was the teacher I tried to be for you and for giving me the opportunity to reflect on performance pay again. You'll see I've never really stopped … but I would have to say no thanks to the offer of more money. I'd settle for fair pay for me and for all my colleagues.


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