I took a phone call today from an NBC 10 Reporter named Tim Furlong. He was calling to inquire about a developing story — a story I’d only heard about 14 hours before. The Delaware State Department of Education, under its Race to the Top-funded Delaware Talent Cooperative (also known as the “teacher bonus program”), would be introducing a program to help reduce the mortgages of the 168 teachers who’ve participated in the program.
Yes. 168 teachers. Out of 8,000 teachers in the entire state.
The reporter did a fine job interviewing me at my school. And my students loved the camera in the classroom. I’m afraid they didn’t show the crux of the argument I was making: So many school districts across the state rebuffed the original teacher bonus program because of its inherent exclusion of so many classes of teachers and the potential divisiveness among schools in districts, particularly those districts that serve students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
What the reporter did show was my response to a question about what teachers do talk a lot about: Working conditions. Though it may go against the media narrative, most teachers I’ve met never talk about wanting to make more money. Never. For the most part conversations at negotiation time concentrate on this idea of “working conditions.” Do teachers have the time to do what they need to do? Adequate prep time and resources? Do their students — particularly those with special needs — have the supports in place to ensure their success? Are there systems in place to work with disruptive students so that the environment for the rest of the students isn’t affected?
I suppose that’s what the reporter showed in my comments, but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the argument I was making through the edited-out comments.
Here goes: This whole Delaware Talent Cooperative has been a mess. When an embarrassingly large majority of school districts reject the whole concept (and when one of the larger school districts that DID sign on because their wrists were twisted nearly beyond recognition) and you still have a governor and secretary of education spouting the program’s praises, then you know we have problems.
Gov. Jack Markell — I’m going to say this now. And please take it as you will. I am really beginning to believe it’s as simple as this: You don’t get it.
Teachers across this state go into classrooms with challenges that few can comprehend. I’d always known how challenging education was before I stepped into the classroom as a teacher, but nothing prepared me for everything I’ve faced things. Hunger. Homelessness. Extreme emotional, learning, physical, and behavioral disabilities. Increasing amounts of state and federal bureaucracy that IMPEDE a teacher from doing his or her best work in the classroom.
This, folks, is what we call “working conditions.” Give a teacher a classroom, a workable, flexible curriculum, a working copy machine, and a few other basic needs and then let them go. But provide the necessary supports to them AND their students and they will shine. In short, teachers from across schools and specialties come to me daily with concerns about working conditions. Never once have I received an email or a phone call from a teacher who has demanded a salary increase. 100% never. It is always about working conditions.
The problem with this whole Teacher Bonus/Mortgage Reduction plan is it assumes teachers care only about money. Give a teacher $10,000 and he or she will uproot him or herself from a job in a less-high-needs school and move to a high-needs school that is often fraught with poverty and many student-behavioral issues. Oh, and by the way, once you finish your two years in that high-needs school, you will have NO RIGHT TO RETURN to your old school.
This bonus program is divisive at its core. It leaves out large swaths of teachers: specialists, art teachers, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, career and technical educators. Teachers who show amazing scores on the state standardized tests are the only ones who qualify.
And yet Gov. Markell continues to tout the benefits of this program. He seriously believes those teachers getting great student test scores will be “Attracted” to this program. (It’s called the Talent Attraction and Retention program. High-performing teachers in affluent schools can be “attracted” to high needs schools OR high-performing teachers in low-performing schools can be “retained” in those schools.)
And yet some people really don’t get it. For the most part, I’ve found my district administrators’ views on this bonus program to be simpatico with the teachers in my district. However, Michelle Duke, a principal from Suuth Dover Elementary School, said this:
“The idea of rewarding high-performing teachers makes some educators nervous,” said Michelle Duke, principal at South Dover Elementary. “I don’t understand why, CEOs and bank presidents don’t apologize when they’re rewarded. Neither do professional athletes. Yet you are the ones who have your hands on the future.”
Education is not corporate America. I find this quote troubling. When I worked at ING Direct, I had no problem with the bonuses. There was a level playing field whereby all Associates could set meaningful and challenging goals and work towards achieving them. There was a definite overarching sense of EQUITY in how the performance rewards were handed out every year. Need I remind Ms. Duke of the blueberry story?
These bonuses are bad. I’m proud that the teachers in my District voted last year to recommend to our superintendent that our District not participate in them. They are exclusionary by definition and they do NOTHING to help solve the challenges that so many of our highest-needs schools face on a day-to-day basis. The governor really needs to start listening to the folks in the classrooms on this one and not the education reformers he’s stacked his administration with since day one.
For those interested, here is the NBC10 piece for which I was interviewed today. Please remember it is much shorter than my interview with the reporter. We discussed far more than this and I don’t feel the comments I made were at all complete regarding the topic discussed. I would like to thank him, though. It was a great experience and gave my students a thrill. So definitely worth it!