Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Teachers, Seniority, and Intrinsic Motivation

Across the nation, a debate continues to rage over teacher quality. Questions abound. Should we abolish tenure? How can we make it easier to fire poor teachers? Should we eliminate seniority-based rules for dismissing teachers? Don't we have to increase pay to attract better teachers?

Some people defend the current system, arguing that it will be even harder to attract people to the teacher profession if we reduce job security substantially. They argue that the job security helps to offset the low compensation. I think these defenders of the status quo miss a very important point. People do not only put forth effort based on extrinsic motivation (pay, benefits, etc.). Clearly, intrinsic motivation also drives people. Ask yourself this question then: If a high quality teacher watches as a system protects incompetence around them, would it decrease their intrinsic motivation? Of course it would! Thus, I would argue that creating a system that is more meritocratic will help attract, retain, and motivate high quality teachers better than a system that protects those who aren't doing their job well.

1 comment:

bblais said...

I'm for a meritocracy, in theory, however I have no faith in people to set up a system that doesn't devolve into a favoritist club. In the amount that I have witnessed the public school systems, this is exactly what happens in the non-tenured administration where, presumably, things are based on competence.

Further, to measure the merit of a teacher one is tempted to use NCLB-type tests, which sap all of the real teaching out of the classroom, focussing on the wrong things. Finally, so much of the effectiveness of a teacher is tied to things out of their control, namely the environment the students are in outside of the classroom (i.e. parents, income, culture, etc...)