Pay peanuts and you’ll get chalk monkeys
It seems the latest round of pay negotiations for teachers in Victoria has reached an impasse, with the Victorian Government entrenched in its view that performance pay should be introduced as part of the package, with the teacher’s union doggedly opposed to this.
Apparently, the Australian Education Union feels teachers operate in a uniquely collegiate environment, and any moves to introduce individual performance-based incentives would wreck the staffroom vibe. As union branch president Mary Bluett said, “‘You get the best outcome when you’ve got teachers working together and sharing best practice. Performance pay would undermine that and students would be the losers.’‘
Too right. I mean, can you imagine if performance-based pay was introduced into any other professional environment that relies heavily on collaboration? Like …lawyers or surgeons or accountants or….oh, hang on.
That’s right. Performance-based pay is a reality in almost every workplace in Australia. From the cleaner to the CEO, nearly every position involves some sort of individual assessment that helps to evaluate the remuneration level and bonus paid to that worker. So why on earth do teachers think they should be immune?
There are some people, of course, who say performance-based pay itself is not the issue, but rather how “performance” is defined in an education context. Is it NAPLAN scores, “customer feedback” (i.e. from students/parents) or how well Mikey does in his school report compared to last year?
The truth is, it’s probably a mix of everything. Teachers shouldn’t be held accountable solely for an individual’s academic aptitude, but surely there’s a way of measuring “performance” as a well-rounded concept, just as it is in most workplaces today.
If collaboration and knowledge-sharing with peers in the school context is valued, incorporate it as a heavily weighted performance metric and get on with it. Many workplaces incorporate 360-degree feedback in annual reviews, which tracks the perceived performance of an individual from their co-worker, subordinate and manager, together with peers from other areas.
It can be a daunting picture, but it’s a heck of a lot more valid than relying on a myopic (and outdated) view that performance is judged solely by one’s manager, or by a single aspect of an individual’s work.
Similarly, if the concern is that teachers in more ‘difficult’ schools would be disadvantaged, load their pay accordingly to create incentives for teachers to take on the challenge of tougher roles.
Teachers perform one of the most significant roles in any child or adolescent’s life. The impact of their work is immense and they are right to demand better pay from a government that promised them more.
Few of the bright sparks in my Year 12 class chose teaching as their vocation. As much as we like to think it’s a “calling”, for many, teaching is a profession like any other, where school leavers look up the salary range to help them decide if it’s a career choice they’re going to follow. If teachers had the potential to earn more, there is no doubt more capable school leavers would choose to become one.
But until then, while there are undoubtedly many shining stars in the teacher ranks, there are also some absolute duds, because teaching is no different to any other workplace.
Performance-based incentives, whether the union likes it or not, help to identify the poorer performers and reward those who do well. If the definition of “doing well” in an educational context needs debate, then let’s have that.
But for the union to continue to push for across-the-board, flat salary increases reeks of a paternalistic approach to education that has got us to where we are now – slipping further down the ladder in the OECD Program for International Student Assessment.
I welcome the day when good teachers in Australia receive the recognition and reverence they deserve. Their task is challenging; with an ever-increasing mix of cultures, socio-economic pressures and demands from sometimes aggressive parents expecting more and more from their child’s education provider.
Our vision should be for a future when teaching is regarded as a true profession of choice – not just a job that provides ‘tick the box’ annual wage increments that stop once you reach the top ceiling, which is arguably set too low to retain the best of the bunch in the classroom.
The path to getting there is obviously complex, but surely it’s time that the union started to think more laterally about how to solve the problem. Why not bring teachers in step with every other profession in Australia, where performance pay is a reality, and not necessarily a bad one?
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