Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rewards for great teachers

Money for teachers.. Aimed at rewarding 10% of teachers.  For what?  Great teachers?  My issue with this idea is that government couldn't recognise a peer recognised 'great teacher' if peers erected a 60 foot high arrow above the teacher's head. I have real doubts at the success of this Commonwealth initiative.

Here are the proposed criteria for rewards circulated by Ms Gillard:

  • Lesson observations
  • Student performance data (including NAPLAN and school based information that can show the valued added by particular teachers)
  • Parental feedback
  • Teacher qualifications and professional development undertaken.

It seems the majority of the criteria is through administration based appraisal.  Staff who have been through an appraisal process know why teachers are cynical about their effectiveness.  The general summary is that deputies cannot assess subjects out of their own prior learning area on anything but behavioural matters.  These processes are time consuming and have little priority.  Outcomes from these meetings are negligible.  They are a hoop to jump each year.  I'm not having a poke at admin, they're busy and have a job to do - staff appraisal is not one well suited to them.

Lesson observations are generally futile given the amount of feedback that comes from them.  Without HoDs or subject superintendents, lesson observations only assess classroom management and this can vary greatly from day to day based on happenings within the school or within the home.  They are snapshots done maybe once a year.

How does the government expect this whole process to happen?  Who will pay for the time to collect this information, analyse it and present it for "approval" by government?  Where is the incentive for teachers that make huge differences in childrens lives outside the academic sphere?

Here is a cynical look at the process for gaining the money: 

Step 1: Prepare a lesson with little effective learning that is flashy
Step 2: Overteach NAPLAN and identify students that you can make large value adds and teach the class at that level
Step 3: Make sure parents put nice things about you on a "rate my teacher" type website (the alternative is ridiculous as it is near impossible to get a detailed questionnaire filled in a low socioeconomic school).  Challenge every poor parental response vigorously
Step 4: Seek spurious professional development to bolster your claim
Step 5: Fill out a wad of paper that takes inordinate amounts of time away from the classroom.  Sing your own praises until you sound like God's gift to teaching.
Step 6: Wait 8-24 months for your application to be appraised by a highly efficicent organisation such as WACOT.  Wait another 8-24 months for it to be approved.

I see absolutely nothing here that actually improves student performance, that leads to to gaining employment or higher education.  If the government wants to see this failed model in action - go seek out L3CT's or the WACOT registration and renewal process (that this sounds very similar to and has similarly been highly?? successful).  It's not the best teachers that succeed in these process, generally it's those with a lot of time on their hands and those willing to gild the lily.

This needs to be reconsidered and focussed on where a difference can be made.

Reward those that teach at the highest level (stage three subjects). Reward those in specialist programmes for disengaged students. Reward those in special needs areas. Reward those that consistently get students into university, apprentiships and TAFE courses. Reward those that go beyond their teaching requirements and still do an admirable job in the classroom.  Reward those recognised by peers as exemplary teachers.  Make people aspire to these levels to improve their teaching. There is nothing else easily measurable that teachers do.

NAPLAN in particular does not measure what one teacher has achieved.

Rewards should be an incentive to continue doing a good job.  If people keep doing a good job, keep rewarding them year after year after year.  Strangely enough, seniority captures this more effectively than performance management (generally, teachers that have taught longer are better teachers - those that can't quit or are encouraged to move on).  Couple seniority to more flexible staff movements and a better mix should be possible.

If the government wants change, improve teacher training (increase the subject specific content level appropriate for teaching), recentralise staffing with a focus on school performance rather than 'bums on seats' (moving these higher paid expert teachers into areas they are most required) and install monitors on learning areas such as subject superintendents for each region and HoDs in schools.  Improve pay rates and ensure that schools have the ability to move staff on.  Allow schools to focus on become specialist learning institutions to compete with private schools.  Provide assistance to deal with difficult students outside the general education system (this is where private organisations should be funded - to do the work government doesn't/can't do - rather than becoming a dumping ground for private schools).

The media release is here for those that want to poke a stick at it.

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