Dr. Hans A. Andrews is a former secondary school teacher and counselor and held instructional and administrative roles in three community colleges in Michigan and Illinois. He retired as college president at Olney Central College in Illinois and is now the Distinguished Fellow for Community College Leadership for Olney Central College. He authored, Recognition vs. Merit Pay for Our Best Teachers, with School Days Magazine in Sydney, Australia.
Moving beyond the Pandemic schools everywhere should start utilizing improved teacher recognition. For the past several years teachers have been placed under the pressures of both in class and remote preparation for their students. In addition, ‘high stakes testing’ and the possibility of merit pay as a ‘reward’ for their students’ high test scores has been utilized far too often.
Preparing two daily teaching plans, teaching extra classes and/or having their class size increased are some of the ways teachers have had to adjust during the pandemic. Now with a growing crisis due to the teacher shortages they are experiencing been worn down and many have been losing much of their spirit for teaching. Far too many teachers have been deciding on an early retirement or switching to another career option. The immediate future looks that these decisions will continue with many teachers.
The Fallacy of Merit Pay
The use of merit pay has been a reward offered to teachers who have had student testing scores improved in their classes. Merit pay has been proven to dissatisfy teachers and is one of the least preferred ways teachers wish to be recognized.
Recognition for excellence in teaching has been a much more satisfying and acceptable program for teachers. Teacher recognition, however, has been identified as lacking in over fifty percent of American K-12 schools.
Developing Satisfying Recognition Programs
The basic levels of teacher need to be met before launching into recognition programs. This includes positive and supportive working conditions as well as adequate pay.
Recognition programs should be cooperatively developed programs between teachers and administrators. Recognition should also be tailored to reflect what is considered important in delivering high quality educational input and the improved teaching outcomes expected in each school district.
Ramsey talked about teaching as an underappreciated profession! He stated:
Without teachers, we wouldn’t have doctors, lawyers, CEOs, engineers, authors . . . the list goes on. Teachers go through additional schooling, work nights and weekends, and somehow have a knack for holding on to their sanity while dealing with other people’s kids.
He went on to say,
A few words of appreciation are all it takes to make a teacher smile and say, it’s all worth it, and honestly, it’s the least we can do (Ramsey, 2022).
Basic Levels of Teacher Needs
The items most important to have in place for teachers before successful recognition programs can successfully be launched include:
- An adequate salary schedule for the teachers
- A professional work environment
- High level of trust between the teachers and administrators
- Evaluation of teachers on their teaching vs. ‘high stakes testing’ scores of students
One teacher’s response to receiving recognition based upon the recommendation of her elementary school principal is an example of the importance and goodwill it creates:
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Lisa Carrier said upon receiving her award. “It didn’t occur to me that I’d deserve something like this. It’s like a dream. She said she does the job because she knows she is affecting her students’ lives.”
The Need to Move Away from High Stakes Testing and Merit Pay
The High Stakes Testing (HST) and Merit Pay movement over the past decade has brought to the surface issues that should not have developed. Some of them are outlined here:
- Evaluating teachers by the test scores their students receive on these state and national exams rather than their classroom teaching efforts
- Deciding on retention or dismissal of teachers based on these tests rather than their actual classroom teaching expertise
- Utilizing a merit pay system that had failed everywhere it was tried over the previous 50+ years
- Granting merit pay to teachers, many of who may have been able to ‘recruit’ top students to their classes for the purpose of improving the test scores of those students.
Watching these types of evaluation processes to develop over the last decade has brought to mind so many of the things that teachers should expect but were pushed aside.
Professional Evaluators and Evaluations
With this in mind the following expectations should become guidelines toward evaluating teachers everywhere:
- Competent evaluators should be expected and used in all evaluations of teachers
- Evaluators should have been excellent classroom teachers themselves.
- Evaluators need to be able to accept a wide range of teaching processes they observe.
- Fairness needs to be expected and will allow for teachers to express disagreement where there are questionable evaluation comments or observations recorded.
- Positive ‘recognition’ should be expressed both orally and in writing for excellent teachers.
Evaluation expectations as outlined above should be looked at as ‘guidelines’ in developing or in improving a professional evaluation system. Such an evaluation system with input from both teachers and administrators can build trust and support between teachers and administrative evaluators. Developing such a system can help make it a positive experience for both teacher and evaluator.
Positive Recognition is Important
It still means the world to me. I had never even heard of Michigan Teacher of the Year before my nomination. It truly has changed my life!
Bill Cecil, a former Michigan Teacher of the Year award winner
When teachers were asked to state some ways that their teacher recognition programs assisted them the following type of responses were received:
- It renewed confidence in their teaching and encouraged other teachers
- It improved their voice in their profession
- It inspired them to work harder
- It validated their ideas
One teacher responded: It reinforced what we have known all along, we are doing the right thing for kids (Million, 2004).
The pandemic years added much to the stress of teaching in the U.S. and in many other countries. Utilizing high stakes testing and merit pay as a reward for improved student scores as an evaluation process of teachers should end. Now is an excellent time to find ways to properly evaluate teachers in their teaching as they move back full time to their classrooms and students.
There are various ways to introduce recognition for the many teachers who continue to work extremely hard and with a high quality of work. Recognition needs to be expanded to many more teachers now. Recognition is one of the main processes available for providing satisfaction to teachers by letting them know they are appreciated!
Andrews, H.A. (2011, Dec.). Supporting quality teaching with recognition. Australian Journal of Teacher Education 36(12), Retrieved at: (PDF) Supporting Quality Teaching with Recognition (researchgate.net)
Million, J. (2004, Jan.). Honor your teachers. National Association of Elementary School Principals. Retrieved at http://www.naesp.org/ContentLoad.do?contentld=1145’
Ramsey, D. (2022, June 13). The 14 most powerful compliments to give a teacher. Retrieved at: The 14 Most Powerful Compliments to Give a Teacher | RamseySolutions.com