[Susan notes: A veteran teacher explains how to beat the merit pay system.]
Submitted to Chicago Tribune but not published
As we reach the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it is appropriate to recall a joke we used to tell when I was a Chicago Public Schools teacher: What is the difference between the CPS and the Titanic? The answer is that the Titanic had a band.
I taught special education in CPS for 27 years and spent an additional 18 years as an adjunct professor of education teaching others to teach in the CPS. I was a student in the CPS from kindergarten through high school. Thus it is with great interest that I watch the CPS heading for another iceberg.
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I strongly feel that not only will merit pay for teachers fail to improve the schools, it will actually make the situation worse.
I worked for 27 years with emotionally disturbed and behavior-disordered high school students. As for my abilities, I will only remark that it is well-known that a teacher cannot survive in this position without knowing what he is doing.
Under a merit-pay system, I would immediately leave this position because these students are often poor performers and that is going to affect my salary. So I would be gone from my area of expertise and entering a regular classroom.
I would spread rumors about anyone else who is teaching the same grade or course so that teacher would get the bad students.
If the goal is to improve the composite score of my entire class, I would focus on my better students because they make the most growth. If the goal is to get the greatest number of students in my class to pass a test, I would focus on the poor students. In fact I wouldn't even bother to work much with my good students; I'll just put them to work also teaching the poorer students.
I would be very kind to all my students and not enforce discipline because I wouldn't want any of them to intentionally do poorly to get even with me. I would give rewards to my students dependent on how well they did on their exams.
My class would concentrate on drills. I would not teach anything unless it was going to be on the test.
Thus, to earn the maximum pay, I would run a high-stress, cold, humorless classroom with the focus on my teacher pay rather than on the students.
Please don't think that a person like me should be fired. After all, I would be doing exactly what the CPS is asking for.
Jerome C. Yanoff