Considering Attitudes About Teachers

I found out earlier today, rather accidentally, that the Texas A&M University System has cancelled its Teaching Excellence Awards program.
In short, the practice was that A&M system students were surveyed about their classes and teachers. They were asked if they thought their teachers deserved some extra recognition for the work they put into their classes. The recognition came with a cash reward, too.
Full disclosure — I’ve been fortunate enough to get it. It’s humbling, really, and I owe it to my students, but this isn’t the point of today’s blog post.
I learned of the program’s demise through The Texas Tribune‘s article titled “A&M System Nixes Controversial Teaching Awards Program.” I’m not getting into the “controversy” here. You can do that research yourself, if you like.
What struck me was a pair of comments from one particular reader. This person was glad to see the program go, and I’ll excerpt a couple of those comments here.
“As if a small bonus makes teachers teach better. They’re already earning a salary. They should be doing their job without some superficial carrot on a stick.”

“There isn’t enough extra money lying around to use as a carrot for great teaching. Professors and adjuncts already get their basic salary to begin with. Why race to the top for a small reward when you already have the reward of a salary and tenure?”

Let me say that I loathe when people take one very specific example and treat it as the representative sample. That’s not what I’m doing here. But I must say that this kind of attitude struck me as familiar, and it reflects a sense that I’ve seen and read over and over about a fundamental misunderstanding of — or, worse, outright disdain for — what educators do.

These comments reminded me of how our society has been reacting as of late to news of executive bonuses during horrific economic conditions. I get that kind of righteous anger. However, I don’t see this person making the same comments if the situation involved, say, her unionized steelworker father who gets an extra Christmas bonus for the good work he put in for the year.

Her logic is, of course, that her father wouldn’t deserve the bonus because he’s already got a job and he should just be happy with that. Besides, the economy is bad and there isn’t enough money to be giving bonuses to steelworkers. Steelworkers aren’t motivated by the chance to earn a little extra money at the end of the year anyway, right?

I just can’t see this person making this argument. In fact, I’ll just say straight up that it wouldn’t happen.

I do admit, though, that there’s a kernel of truth in this. I’m going to teach my classes as best as I can, whether there’s an official “awards program” or not. Most other teachers will, too. The recognition and cash are just really nice “attaboys”  — a little bit of validation for the long hours we put in (both in and out of the classroom).

I made a choice to become an educator because I believe in it. Lord knows it isn’t for the money or to try to score some kind of easy paycheck. The same is true for my friends and family members who are teachers or preparing to become teachers. 
The issues here are bigger than a little bit of bonus money, true. But devaluing our work is a step toward devaluing education itself.
2 Responses to “Considering Attitudes About Teachers”
  1. Interesting post Dr. Cain. I agree this practice can be considered controversial. But we must reward good teachers as we would anyone who performs well in any profession.

  2. Jason Harris says:

    I know this is an older post, but your point is well made. As an educator myself the money issue is and always will be an issue. Every legislative session brings new ways to cut salaries, lower benefits and balance the budget. No teacher in today's world will tell you money is their reason for teaching. We teach because we want to pass on the knowledge we have attained hoping to better our students. Using the steelworker example, he is more likely to have the larger salary and better benefits anyway. However, a bonus is perceived either as a quota made, a job well done, or going the extra mile to teach a student. It gives us an incentive to be better at what we do. It has more to do with recognition than money. Not to say the cash is not appreciated.

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