Sunday, May 22, 2011

'Collegial' is the reason I'm in this game

This weekend I’m at the *textbook company* conference in Melbourne. It’s likely that over the next few weeks I’ll write a few posts on some of the speakers I saw down here and what I thought of them. The second day has been pretty good (I missed the first day because of a flight delay). But what I feel like writing about now is more to do with the people I’ve caught up with down here than any of the fun ideas or arresting research at the conference.

Teaching is a collegial profession. We say that a lot without really examining what it means much. I’m thinking lately that you can’t overstate the importance of that collegiality. Teaching in a school is a job that comes with its own readymade community. I think one of the big reasons I went into teaching in the first place was because I’m a small town guy. I get community; it’s what I was brought up on. Teaching is a way of getting that small town feeling within a bigger city.

This weekend has been a lovely opportunity for me to catch up with some old colleagues I don’t see often lately. Most of what we are doing could probably be described as a good gossip. To some extent that gossip comes down to the shared experience of working together at the same institution in a profession where personalities are important and conflict and humour are just part of the daily routine. But teaching is special in this regard.

Teachers share a special kind of battle experience. We are all out there alone for a lot of our days and we need to learn to deal with kids that are challenging, parents who can be aggressive and the tears and tribulations of the typical school day. Teaching is an emotional activity because the only way to get someone to really learn something is to engage with their emotions. Shared support in the staffroom (or at the pub this evening) is an essential part of our profession. I can’t teach effectively without colleagues around to take up some of the emotional fallout from my bad days and the bad days of my students. And I can’t call myself an effective teacher if I don’t shoulder some of the same burden from the people that teach around me. When we say that teaching is a collegial profession, we don’t just mean that we are friendly with each other, we mean that that friendship is an essential part of what we do.

That’s why performance pay for teachers is such a deeply crappy idea. The format our red-headed leader is proposing involves separating some kind of 10% top of the herd group and giving them a 10% bonus over the people they are sharing staffrooms with. She wants to take some teachers and clearly say to them, through their pay packets, ‘we think you’re better than the people you swap horror stories with’. The logistics of determining who makes the cut for that 10% are crazy to contemplate. If it ends up based on NAPLAN testing you’ll know for certain that the world has gone mad. But even if you could accurately determine the best 10% of teachers, I wouldn’t want a performance pay scheme.

Performance pay destroys that collegiality. Performance pay actively undermines my motivation to make the teachers around me better teachers. I’m more likely to collect my cheque if they are worse. I love teaching because of that community I teach with; that community is threatened because of performance pay. It is difficult – it’s a constant bloody struggle – to get teachers to share the best of themselves and work together to improve the worst. Performance pay undermines that worthy work. So if anyone has a party I can vote for or a march I can attend to get rid of this dodgy policy (and bear in mind the Liberals want the same thing, but faster and more sloppily) let me know because I’ll be first to the barricades.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe EVERYONE should get a bonus if they participate in peer and collegial discussion/observation and reflections.........