Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sarah Kay: A teacher that probably isn't motivated by a bonus

In my last post, I wrote a little about Daniel Pink and his TED talk about motivation. He discusses about what motivates people- what REALLY motivates them. Long story short, the extensive history of research shows that incentives like bonuses don't really motivate human beings like we think.

Pink suggests that autonomy, mastery and purpose motivate people to do good and interesting work, not money. When a task gets complicated, and requires conceptual, creative thinking, bonuses don't work. I would argue that sounds a lot like teaching (and educational administration, thank you very much!).

Since I posted that, the state of Florida passed a merit pay law for teachers. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the legislation "bases 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation on student test data. Teachers with the highest evaluations are then supposed to be paid the most as dictated through negotiations between the unions and school boards. It also eliminates tenure-like provisions, putting all new hires on one-year contracts."

Note that they clearly have no idea how it's going to work, just that education simply MUST improve if you offer more money to "good teachers" based on student test data. No other work is required of the legislators, and neither guidance nor details need to be provided to the schools that now have to live with a blatantly political decision. A decision that imposes a simplistic, ham-fisted, ideologically-driven approach to a complex issue: what will improve schools and what are teachers worth?

Instead, the Florida legislation shoved the details back on the school districts. In this case, because it serves their situational needs, they fall back on "local control of schools." (Note the "as dictated through negotiations between the unions and school boards" line). The fact that the legislation itself imposes heavy-handed and unfunded mandates on schools from above doesn't seem to be about "local control," but never mind that.

In other words, when it falls flat on its face because they didn't think about what they were doing, didn't fund the system, and didn't set up a system that could possibly work, the legislators can later blame schools, teachers, unions, and administrators. Again.

I don't mean to get off on a rant here, but watch Sarah Kay, a poet and a teacher. In her TED Talk, she reads some of her poetry, discusses why she got into poetry in the first place, and why she teaches now.

Thinking about Daniel Pink's principles of motivation, watch Sarah and ask yourself: Do you see merit pay motivating her?

On the other hand, I wonder what the student test data would show about her teaching. I wonder if she would get that bonus, or maybe she wouldn't be teaching for very long in Florida....unless they've developed a test that measures how much you've changed kids' lives.

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