Weekly Reflection: Paying for the best teachers?

Teachers often bemoan a lack of funding for education. Yet I suspect I’m not the only teacher feeling deeply uneasy about this week’s announcement of an extra $359 million being pumped into the education on the next four years on school leadership.

For teachers to complain of such an huge investment particularly in the form of substantial pay rises seems at best ungrateful and at worst a confirmation of every stereotype of the unionised teacher out there: unwilling to compromise, stubborn and arrogant.

After all, why are we paying our worst teachers the same as our very best?

And there in lies the deep ideological divide between many in the teaching profession and the government. Underpinning the initiative of lead teachers, change principals is a philosophy that talent is something innate which needs to be recognised and rewarded rather than something that is constantly being developed and nurtured.

It strikes me as odd that when it comes to our kids the government has embraced the vision that all children can learn. That it’s s  a matter of good teaching that will, to borrow a talking point, ensure five out of five kids are achieving.

Yet when it comes to managing those entrusted with educating our kids, talent is in short supply. There’s an assumption underpinning this announcement that good teachers need titles to make change and in the words of the Prime Minster “we are going to pay them more to get it.”

Pay a reward, get results.

It’s behaviourism. A philosophy from the 1950s which is seen as outdated by modern educators who favour meaningful learning experiences rather than rewards and punishments to motivate students.

Current educational practice requires excellence to be an ongoing journey rather than destination.

Most teachers expert or otherwise will quite happily admit that they themselves are still learning. More importantly, teachers will learn from anyone be it a 1st year teacher, an  internationally renowned expert and most importantly their students.

Teachers know that what works for one group of kids will not automatically transfer to another. Just as each kid has their own personality so too each class and school.

The danger in paying to get results from super teachers is that it assumes the process of teaching and learning can be standardised – follow what the expert teacher to get results – when it needs to be personalised.

I know I’m not the only teacher who has taken an idea from an expert at a conference or a classroom observation and tried to implement it in class only to have it fail miserably. I will then adjust a few things and sometimes make the idea work for my learners otherwise I  will try a new approach.

Yes expertise and school leadership  is important but  just as important is that teachers know how to tweak best practice to fit the needs of the kids in their class.

It’s what the New Zealand curriculum calls teaching as inquiry and what high achieving systems  strive for – all teachers need to be experts in how their students learn.

On a more structural level teachers as a professional acutely feel the effects of income inequality in New Zealand.

Even at the high decile school I worked at there were teachers dipping into their own funds for food, school trips and shoes.

Throwing millions into establishing an executive level of educators won’t help the 11 year old in tears because there’s holes in their shoes and no money in the house until payday.

Yes teaching quality is the biggest in-school factor in lifting student achievement. However it is those out of school factors, having enough food to eat, secure housing to avoid transience as well as sickness and above all a feeling of love and belonging which  have a far greater impact on our kids’ learning.

I’m sure my rant might just seem like sour grapes from a card-carrying member of the teachers union determined to bring down those high achieving teachers down to my own level.

However I don’t actually have any skin in the game. I no longer teach in New Zealand.

Would this announcement be enough to lure me home in the next few years?

No.

While my prime motive for moving overseas is for travel, the support and resources I have enjoy are well beyond what the education system in New Zealand is resourced to provide.

There is more admin support, specialist help, a smaller class and more release time. I am still as busy as I ever was back home however I am now far more focused on teaching and learning.

Because while money is important, the most important resource for teachers is their time.

Rather than injecting a few thousand super teachers into our education system how about focusing on ensuring that every teacher and more importantly every child is supported to be brilliant in the classroom?

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5 thoughts on “Weekly Reflection: Paying for the best teachers?

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  1. Excellent insight Stephanie (as usual).
    While I am not philosophically against the establishment of an ‘executive level of educators’ (I love that – it is a spot-on analysis of the announcement) who are recognised for their expertise and commitment to development, I completely agree with you that teacher success comes from being able to adapt the ‘best practices’ to suit the unique needs of a specific group of learners in order to get the best results – something that comes from relationship building, and reflection on and responding to identified needs.
    Next we will be seeing training courses developed and funded in order for lead teachers / change principals to learn how best to pass on their skills to those assessed as ‘in need’.
    This $359 million cash injection doesn’t directly support the schools and students who need it most – the money is being invested in the hope that increased circulation of perceived skilled experts among those ‘in need’ will raise the achievement levels of all. If it were that simple wouldn’t those of us already engaging in voluntary development through padcamps, twitter, VLN and PLN’s be seeing the significant impact in our classrooms of increased networking and support? I think many expert teachers have been addressing issues of student achievement with everything they have at their disposal and paying another expert to parachute in isn’t going to make as much of an impact as providing direct specialist (learning and pastoral), social (breakfasts and nurses) and administrative (increased release time) support to those schools would. This ‘tail of underachievement’ (which has been very clearly linked to socio-economic factors) is not a problem that can be solved with one solution – there are so many factors across a range of circumstances that I think it will be specific, and sometimes seemingly small interventions that will make a difference.

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  2. Very well said indeed. I don’t want more money for me, I want more for my kids, for special needs, for professional deveopment, to feed them and give them free health care. I didn’t become a teacher to make it rich – I did it to make a difference. Kia kaha.

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  3. “how about focusing on ensuring that every teacher and more importantly every child is supported to be brilliant in the classroom?”

    I’m curious. We struggle with this topic too and I’m interested in knowing what your points look like. Paint a picture of what you mean. I’m also interest to see the support you know receive than before.

    Great “rant!”

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