Sunday, February 19, 2012

Merit Pay

Another anecdote (I like them because I think they help people connect.) My husband works in a retail sporting goods establishment. His boss, a retiree from Corporate America and self-made millionaire, has a merit pay program based on revenue generated for the company. You work hard to make more money for the store, you make more money in the form of a bonus. (We'll disregard the fact that my husband hasn't seen a real raise in three years, but hey "it's the economy").

 What I have noticed is that those who Always work hard Always make their bonus. Those who don't like to work hard, never make their bonus, and it's ALWAYS the same people. The rankings have not changed in three years. People may fluctuate within one step, but nobody from the bottom every goes to the top, or vice versa. It really doesn't matter how big the bonus is. People rarely deviate from their set patterns. Hard-workers are born, and they can't be bribed. However, those who don't normally work hard will put forth more effort when the overall bonus to be shared by ALL employees is close at hand. They won't work for themselves, but they'll work for the good of the group, or the group will hurt them LOL. 

Now I posed him a problem. I said, "You are paid based on how hard you work. What if you were paid according to how hard others work. (I've had managers argue this point with me because their bonuses are based on their DEPARTMENT productivity, the work of others)  What if you weren't given bonuses by revenue, but by the achievements of your customers. I say customers because a manger can make changes and even fire people who don't do their job. Nobody is going to fire their customers (except maybe charter schools.)

So I ask, "What if you only got bonuses based on how many races your customers won?" That's what teachers face. We are not being offered bonuses based on our work but that of our students, who are our customers. Basically I get to see in action every quarter motivation at work. Here is the animated version of Dan Pink's speech about motivation. I love this video, and I think business owners could really learn something from it. It has been proven time and time again that for more complicated skills and jobs, money will actually make people LESS productive. It's counter-intuitive, but true.

Teachers know this, why doesn't everyone else. Money IS NOT our motivator. We WANT autonomy. We WANT to become better at our craft. We WANT to focus on our purpose of helping kids learn. We lost our autonomy in the test driven culture. Canned, scripted curricula strips us of our autonomy, along with pacing guides and principals who use the word test every 2 sentences. We are now being told that advanced education doesn't matter and we will no longer receive any assistance or extra pay for striving toward more knowledge. There goes our mastery. We are also now being told that our purpose is no longer helping kids learn, but to help them pass a test. There is a very big difference. I can teach a kid to pass a test without actually teaching them anything, especially how to think.

So why exactly do people think merit pay will help improve education? Oh wait, they don't actually THINK that. They just say it to get others to go along with their ideas. There's a whole lot motivating the "school reform" crowd that has nothing to do with "racial equality", "improving schools" or "educating our way to a better economy." I think Brian Jones has some accurate ideas about what's motivating them. That's a conversation for another time.

The True Motivation Behind Today's School Reform: Separate the Classess, Separate the Races

I just finished watching "Separate but Still Unequal" with Brian Jones. If you remember, Brian Jones was the amazing NYC school teacher who sat on the "Waiting for Superman" panel at the first Education Nation Summit. He is also one of the driving forces behind the answering documentary, "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman", another video I will eventually be posting here. You see Brian made his video to get the TRUTH out there, NOT to make money, so he likes it when we share is work. I'm not ready to write my comments about the video, just know that my husband and children looked at me funny when I was clapping, yelling and giving it a standing ovation in my living (While listening with my earbuds).
Brian Jones Video

#1 I've often said that NJ is far more segregated than the small town where I lived in GA 20 years ago. I never imagined the cause, and I think I may need to do some research to substantiate it. Jones alludes to the idea that the middle class neighborhoods built after WWII were intentionally segregated. I believe him because you only have to look to see the truth. Both of my grandparents left Jersey City for one of those neighborhoods in Middlesex County. I work in Jersey City and grew up in my grandparents' neighborhood. I see/saw first hand every day how segregated those areas are. In fact I had more childhood friends of varying elasticities while living in GA, you know the deep south where the Jim Crow laws were in effect, than I ever did in NJ.  People wonder why I don't move from my current neighborhood. I say it's because I like living in a REAL melting pot. However, even towns are divided by neighborhoods. I went to HS in a town literally divided by the railroad tracks; black on one side, white on the other

He hits every major point. Watch and discuss. "Instead of approaching as a citizen with rights, you are coming as a customer, and they have the right to refuse you service."

Our kids "not hitching their wagons to stars but to a mule." Still applies today.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What to do for the future?

I have been giving serious thought to going back to my alma mater, the local university, and teaching as an adjunct at the school of education. Perhaps I can smack the next generation of teachers in the head.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Broken Trust

It has been a very emotional and disturbing week.

On Monday a student stole my cell phone off of my desk.

We have been having a few problems with one of our students. He is a known behavior problem and is one of our special education students. We were excited when we came back from break because he was doing so well. By the end of the second week of January we began to become very disturbed. That Friday afternoon, he spilled honey all over the school Liberian's desk and computer. It happened at the end of the day on a Friday and he was never properly disciplined.

Over the course of the next week, he was caught in a number of lies. His lying has become compulsive. He was also caught drawing explicit pictures and he cut his hand on scissors he broke in his desk. All together it seems like cries for help, and indicative of a child in crisis. We gave mom, who came crying to us that she wanted to help her son, information about counseling. She never made the calls.

Just before my prep, I checked my phone for any missed calls or messages, left it on vibrate and left it on top of my desk in the corner of the room. I left the room during my prep. I didn't look for my phone again until 4pm when I was getting ready to leave for the day. Of course you think you just put it down somewhere else. You search. You have a friend call it. Would you believe the kid actually answered trying to use a fake voice. He answered the phone just before 5pm. Didn't answer after that and according to the phone company there was no activity really after that.

What to do? You can guess who took it, but you can't accuse without proof. Nobody saw it. It's just a cheesy phone, not a smart phone, so no tracking. Phone company says to file the police report but it turns out a phone like that can't be traced without a court order. So a very stressful hour in the police department was pretty much wasted. My administrator, who is very supportive, basically wants to expel the kid, or at least kick him out of the building for being out of district. (Our community aide went for a home visit and turns out they don't live there anymore.)

I just let the mom know that my phone went missing, all casual like. She came running back not 2 minutes later, and told me her son admitted to "playing with it" and it was in his desk. I knew this was a lie because we checked all desks before the children arrived just on the off chance it was still in the room. I told her I would look, but could she please look around at home. She denied it emphatically. My question is how can you KNOW it's not at home if you never looked for it.

The next day we had a huge meeting with case manager, guidance counselor community aide, and both teachers. Needless to say the need for counseling was reiterated, and told the mother about his constant lying, and my inability to trust him on any level. Needless to say, NOTHING HAPPENED about the missing phone. So we all know he took it, he even admitted to taking it and I CAN'T DO ANYTHING! My husband was irate and it takes a lot to get him working up. He's been asking me to leave teaching in the city for years, but right now there's nowhere to go, no jobs to be found.

The student was suspended for Friday for an unrelated offense, but is going unpunished. I can't help but be bothered by that. Also, how can I work with a student I don't trust. Something many people don't understand is that there has to be a level of trust between student and teacher, especially in Special Ed. How can I work effectively with this student? If anyone tells me to suck it up,  I will spit in their face. I suck it up everyday. I accept the abuse everyday and the disrespect by the parents, politicians, and much of the public. Must I also accept personal attacks as well?