Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Kelli De Guire, a teacher in Gordon County and Secretary for the PAGE Board of Directors, responded in January to a media request for her thoughts on merit pay and her experience with TKES (Georgia’s performance evaluation system for teachers). Her experience is echoed by thousands of educators around Georgia. PAGE continues to share Kelli’s and many of your stories with legislators during this session of the General Assembly. Your voices matter. Call the members of your delegation to let them know how TKES is affecting your students, your classrooms and you. You can find your local legislators using this lookup tool.
Coming from the business world in 2003, I have a unique perspective on merit pay. As a technical writer (sometimes a contractor,) getting a bonus for product sales made sense. As employees, we were responsible for design, creation, quality, and customer satisfaction. This model, however, does not make sense for education. While we as teachers are definitely responsible for the design of lessons and implementing them for of our students, we cannot be held responsible for areas that lie outside our realm of control. Poverty in Georgia is a real issue. I can design the world’s best researched and crafted lesson, but if a student hasn’t eaten all weekend or is worried because his parent is in jail, I cannot make the student learn. To use my computer analogy, I cannot “debug” the student because the code doesn’t belong to me. I truly believe that equating business models with education models is dangerous, not just for teachers but for everyone involved. When we start viewing our students as “products,” we lose the individuality that each has and the nurturing that each one deserves – even if they cannot pass a specific test.
The TKES idea originated, I believe, in good intentions. However, I feel very scared that that 50% of a teacher’s score (pay) will be based on students’ abilities, and desires, to do well on standardized tests. Also, why does Georgia feel the need to make it 50% of a teacher’s evaluation? Some states tie test performance to pay, but Georgia goes further than most using 50% as the measure. Even the federal government has dropped any correlation between standardized testing and teacher performance. Why should GA continue to support this model?
As I watched my students taking my SLO (Student Learning Objective) test last semester, I had an angry and powerless feeling wash over me. This reaction to a test was not a first in my teaching career, but this time the consequences of the testing would fall on me. Some students did not take the test seriously. One in particular did not even read the passages because he planned to drop out of school (despite SEVERAL interventions.) Prior to the TKES, I would have been concerned for the students themselves, but now I was physically angry because this lack of desire would reflect negatively upon me despite all my many and various efforts to the contrary. I was angry because it was out of my control. My best effort was not only not good enough, it was going to fail. Was this my fault? According to TKES, the answer is yes, but I have no idea what else I could have done.
We teach our children that they are not powerless-that they have control over educational outcomes and thereby their lives; yet, I, as the teacher had no control at all and was left feeling powerless over the eventual outcome. No one wants to feel powerless, especially those who give their lives wholeheartedly everyday to their profession. As teaching professionals, TKES leaves us powerless yet responsible.