Being that it's my first year in a union, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about many of the professional issues on my hands. Two weeks ago, we had a meeting where we needed to take a union vote about whether or not to participate in a pilot program that would line our pockets if our school passes its performance report card (read: based on Regents test scores). What would I do with $3,000 in my classroom? A lot. But I didn't want to jump on that overloaded bandwagon without considering what this means beyond a bonus. At what cost? Where is the money for this program coming from? Is this the beginning of performance and merit-based pay in the NYC public schools?
So, I took a step back and listened to some of my colleagues weigh the pros and cons. I don't agree with high stakes testing being the be-all-end-all definition of a student's success. I also don't like the divide-and-conquer methodology that I foresee happening within a school if teachers are being paid different levels based on student performance. I think about how money can change friendships, and also working relationships. The students who need the most assistance with reading, writing, and thinking skills will not get the best teachers, because they will most likely be teaching the honors students. I don't disagree with incentivizing teachers who do good work, but standardized tests were not meant to measure a teacher's ability, only what a student knows at a snapshot in time... and they do this insufficiently. Why should funding be tied to these scores?
We seriously debated this vote for quite some time, and are currently the only school offered to be in the program who voted no. We are saying, with this vote, that we are philosophically and pedagogically opposed to merit-based pay. We learned that the money for this program is being drawn from public funding, we were very concerned about the allocation of public funds for this pilot. We would like to have meaningful, holistic assessments of our progress as educators, and of our students' work, in the interest of learning how to refine our practice, not in the interest of being paid for it.
I'll say it again: BK was the only school offered this program who declined the money, which really concerns me.
It feels amazing to be working at a school where my colleagues are concerned about vision, about in-the-long-run. It also feels great to have a community where we want to discuss these issues and decide collectively how they affect us. It can get lonely in the classroom sometimes, so it's incredible to be a part of a place like this.