In my second year of teaching 12th grade, a mysterious chunk of money showed up in my paycheck. When I asked around, other people said they’d gotten it too. No one knew why.

It happened two more times that year. Eventually we learned it was merit pay, awarded because of some institution-wide accomplishment no one knew anything about.

It was a nice chunk, as I recall. Lots more than dinner at a fancy restaurant, anyway. But not one of us kept or stopped coming to work because of that money. Not one of us changed the way we taught or worked with kids or each other because of the promise of more.

Some folks argue that merit pay is only logical. After all, one argument goes, shouldn’t people get paid for what they’re worth? Others think merit pay is a red herring, to keep us from looking hard at issues like teacher salaries.

Below, I’ve listed at least ten things I’ve seen many teachers do that have a powerful impact, on an individual or a group. What are these worth?

  1. Persuading a depressed teen to seek professional help.
  2. Writing up a year-long curriculum to pass on to a successor (with no pay).
  3. Going in to school every day after a violent student death, e.g., suicide, drunken driving, drive-by shooting, and teaching and supporting kids & colleagues.
  4. Paying for class sets of books out of one’s own money.
  5. Realizing a student is being abused at home and figuring out what action to take.
  6. Getting so-called “bad” kids to love reading, instead of just doing it for the teacher.
  7. Getting so-called “smart” or “good” kids to love writing, instead of just doing it for the teacher.
  8. Meeting with colleagues for days after the school year is out in order to develop innovative new approaches to a course everyone teaches (with no pay).
  9. Being the consultant who meets with teachers for days after the school year is out in order to develop innovative new approaches to the course everyone teaches (with no pay).
  10. Breaking up a fight.
  11. Giving poor students lunch money with no expectation of being paid back.
  12. Working with a student’s parents to set up a drug intervention.
  13. Spending weekends and/or vacation days writing grants for class supplies and books.
  14. Mediating a problem-solving session between upset friends.

What’s a good teacher worth?


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