A December 2011 article in the New York Times highlighted teachers in Washington, D.C. who were rewarded with large cash bonuses and significant pay raises. One teacher received an increase from $63,000 per year to $87,000. That represents an almost 35 percent increase. Over time, it has become clear to me that some educational standards have declined in the United States and one theory is linked to the motivation of teachers. Since America believes in capitalism, it has not been uncommon to use financial rewards as a way to motivate workers. Teachers and other workers certainly aren't going to complain if they get more money, but one has to wonder if this is a long-term solution.
I am certainly fine with giving teachers incentives to improve their performance in the classroom. However, I wonder if the money will lead to true motivation. Teachers should expect to get compensated fairly, but many quality teachers that I have known over the years understand that they have a greater calling to improve society. Education can be a thankless industry. If cash becomes the goal, will teachers simply focus on the metrics needed to meet the incentive thresholds? Or, will they remain committed to the development of students even if they are not compensated fairly compared to other industries?
What happens next year?
There is also the challenge of long-term incentives. It makes sense that money would motivate people to reach short-term goals that are on the immediate horizon. I am skeptical that it is a long-term motivator if the increases are not regular, and large enough, to change a person's lifestyle. In the article, one teacher received bonuses of $30,000 over two years. The teacher stated that they felt valued. What happens when that teacher does not meet the requirements for a bonus in the future? Will they still feel valued? In addition, will teachers that receive bonuses and large raises expect those rewards every year in order to maintain motivation?
It is also interesting to read in the article that teachers had to sign away some of their job security protection in order to be eligible for the bonuses. Some teachers turned down opportunities for bonuses in order to keep those protections in place. This remains an area that garners very little sympathy from me. As an educator, I have no job protection and I must simply maintain the hope that my performance will keep me employed. If all educators lost the protection of their union contracts, it would be interesting to see what would happen to their job motivation.