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Are Teachers Being Paid for Their Merits?

Teacher merit pay, which is also known as incentive pay, performance pay, and pay-for-performance, offers financial incentives to teachers who meet certain criteria, usually involving improved student test scores.

Merit-based teacher pay and remuneration continues to be one the most controversial issues in the field of education. Some people believe that it’s almost impossible to measure teacher effectiveness, and that by providing additional pay for better and improved performance promotes divisiveness, not cooperation among colleagues.

People who believe that merit pay is a good incentive for teachers to teach better maintain that good work, as in most other professions, deserves special financial recognition. Although measuring teacher effectiveness is challenging, it is not impossible, states the proponents of merit pay. The least educators could do is implement thorough performance reviews whose results would play a big role in determining any additional compensation.

Before one chooses either of the sides, it is important to acknowledge the deterioration in the treatment of teachers over the years. Being one of the most severely underpaid and overworked professions, teachers who are the backbone of our society honestly go through a lot. Although at face value it might seem like an easy job with the holidays and perks, not everyone and anyone can be a teacher. It takes years of training and practice to accumulate skills to teach any subject irrespective of how ‘easy’ it is to learn it.

Coming back to the problem at hand whether or not teachers deserve merit pay - it is important to examine the problem with the single-salary (or step-and-lane) system of pay which is mostly used. A teacher who has worked longer will get paid more according to the system and in some places, age also plays an important role. While experience comes with years of training that does and should be rewarded, not every newcomer is incompetent, and not every 20+ experienced teacher is necessarily better at the job.

The best teachers will always strive to learn new and effective pedagogical approaches, regardless of pay. At the same time, like any other profession - if there is no incentive to motivate them to do their jobs better, this could lead to a problem of lack of care and just doing the bare minimum.

The general consensus is that experienced teachers, freshers, or first-year teachers are less good than others, and that experience matters up to roughly anywhere between 2-5 years and that a person’s experience after this point means significantly less in terms of improved effectiveness. Since teachers are not adequately compensated, especially the young teachers - this has led to too many talented young teachers leaving the profession because they aren’t being appropriately compensated. Low wages, testing pressure, and poor working conditions are some of the reasons for high teacher turnover.

The critics of the merit pay system argue that teaching should not be commercialized. They say that even if private schools can afford to give the teachers bonuses, most public schools lack serious funds for basic resources to teach, and in no way, shape, or form could they include bonuses as incentives for teachers.

It can also be argued that most people teach just for the joy of teaching and making the world a better place by inculcating and moulding young children to grow up to be proper adults. Not everything in life is about money and at times, people do jobs because it is noble - just like teaching.

On the contrary, several researches that studied the benefits and downsides of merit pay suggest that while some merit pay programs have the potential to improve student test scores in some contexts, the more pertinent question that researchers and policymakers should consider is how the program is structured and implemented.

This brings us to the question? Do teachers deserve merit pay? We believe they do.

Teaching is not that different from other professions and if a manager can get bonuses for overtime and for exemplary performance - why not a teacher for increasing the overall scores of the students? The possibility of earning financial rewards will motivate current teachers to focus their efforts on student achievement through innovation and additional effort. It could also motivate young adults to join the teaching workforce and remove the stigma that teaching is a low-paying and less rewarding job.

As noble as teaching is as a profession, at the end of the day, teachers are humans too and should be fairly compensated for their time, energy, and hard work.

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