Sunday, February 28, 2010
Merit Pay is the Wrong Way in New Jersey
Don Smith/ THE RECORD
Spanish teacher Maryann Woods-Murphy of Northern Highlands High School is named state teacher of the year.
By Maryann Woods-Murphy/ Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
I was intrigued by the recent Star-Ledger opinion piece headlined "Good N.J. teachers should speak up for merit pay" (Feb. 21). By most measures, I think I qualify as a good teacher. I am a foreign language teacher at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale and in October I was named New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education.
My peers, my administrators and the department all recognize my talent. I suspect that if merit pay came to New Jersey I would get a share of it. But this good teacher is speaking up to say no to merit pay, because it is the wrong thing for our students, our schools and our profession.
I don’t need to be paid extra to do my job better. Because of collective bargaining, my profession is compensated in a professional manner and my expertise is appreciated. I am a member of a school community filled with educators who give their heart, soul and mind to fulfill the sacred trust society has placed in us.
I am a professional and I do what I do for the children. The dream I have is for my students’ success. I am paid to help them learn to create a better world and become life-long learners who carry the light of learning into the future.
I resent Star-Ledger columnist Kevin Manahan calling some of my colleagues "lazy, unprepared and uninspiring slug(s)." I have worked in urban and suburban schools, and I have not seen the people he speaks of. He conjures a most unfavorable and misleading image of my profession and I wonder why.
My colleagues and I share a passion to work collaboratively to share best practices and figure out how to help every child shine. My success isn’t mine alone. It is shared with my colleagues. I want to work with my fellow teachers, not be placed in competition with them for merit pay where my success would mean they had to lose something, or vice versa.
I understand business. Before I became a teacher, I worked with my husband in a language institute he founded. It was rewarding work, but I can assure everyone that running a business is a very different proposition from educating a child, and the same rules do not apply. I don’t know if merit pay works in the business world or not. But I do know that schools are not businesses, and it is a dangerous mistake to treat them as if they are.
As the New Jersey Teacher of the Year, I have the opportunity to see just how wonderful my teaching colleagues are. As I travel the state, I’ve seen teachers with limited resources buy whole libraries of readers so that "their kids" can have an experience with literature. I’ve seen 30-year veteran teachers learning the newest digital tools so they can help their students prepare themselves for the challenges of a global marketplace. I’ve seen students learning as they dance salsa or create love poems about our shared future in honor of Black History Month. I’ve heard the children themselves speak of their proud collections of flash cards or a poster that is hung in the school hallway with dignity.
Those things cannot be measured on a standardized test. The moments we most treasure in a classroom are those intangible, but unforgettable, times when a student finally gets it and his or her eyes light up. It concerns me to think that teachers might be pressured to stop doing those things that work in order to spend even more hours drilling students for even more tests. And for what? Because people who have never been in a classroom assume that a sound bite solution like "merit pay" will magically fix the things they imagine are wrong with our schools? Trust those of us who are there every day: We don’t need another reform gimmick. We just need the support and resources to do the job we love.
I am a teacher and I love it. That’s something you can’t pay me to feel. My students and I share a public education world filled with meaning and excellence. That is what I have seen all around this great state of New Jersey. And that is why this good teacher will never argue for merit pay.
Maryann Woods-Murphy has been a professional educator for 30 years
Education, Family & Kids, The Working Life »
Teacher of the Year: Merit pay is the wrong way in N.J.
By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
February 28, 2010, 5:00AM