Merit Pay – is it an incentive or an insult?

Merit systems to improve  teacher quality in public schools often appear in discussions of education reform by Australia’s politicians. The carrot on offer is bonus pay either for the highest performing teachers or for the teachers at highest performing schools.

The idea is popular – except amongst teachers themselves.

There are many reasons we don’t like it. We understand that students’ educational success does not come down to individual teachers. Most teachers don’t work alone. We work with each other, developing strategies, writing programs and sharing the teaching load. We work in partnership with students’ families. It seems ridiculous to reward individual teachers for the work of many.

Oh, and can we not forget the role of the student in their own education?

But perhaps the main reason that teachers like me object to bonus pay is that it is insulting.

To suggest we need a carrot in order to become quality teachers assumes that we are not already working hard to be the best teachers we can be. It suggests that we are withholding our best work and don’t care about our students. it assumes we are unprofessional. Rather than valuing our work, the idea seems to cheapen it.

So I wonder, how do our students feel when we offer rewards in class? Does this insult them as well?

I’m reading ‘Punished by Rewards’ by Alfie Kohn at the moment. He raises this issue and more.



2 thoughts on “Merit Pay – is it an incentive or an insult?

  1. I was an active member of a Queensland P&C. From having sat on that committee, my eyes were opened to the constant abuse and negligence of the education system committed by our politicians and the media. It got me to the point where I now suggest to people that they should sit on some P&C meetings.

    When you have an education system that is so underfunded that the school cannot supply what it needs in materials in the classrooms so parents are expected to supply them, we have an education in crises. With households in financial crises, where does the money come from. With so little being funded today, where have all our taxes gone too for so little available to spend?

    We are being lied too and the one thing politicians don’t want spoke, is the truth. Nor does the media for it doesn’t sell.

    • Hi awombatsweb, thanks for commenting. I completely agree with you about government funding of public schools. The whole point of our public education is to ensure that all students access a quality education regardless of where they live or how much money their families have. When schools are forced to raise money from the community to pay for the resources they need it just increases inequity IMHO, as the capacity and willingness of each community to raise funds differs from school to school.

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