The Coolest Thing I’ve Been A Part of in Awhile…My Merit Pay

Yesterday I received merit-based pay.

Last week, I got a call from Ron Fafnis. Ron invited me to come talk to the Heart of the Valley Senior Service Club. Our conversation went something like this:
Mike, this is Ron Fafnis from the Heart of the Valley Senior Service Club.

Hi Ron. How can I help you today?
Well I’m a part of a group of people 70+ and we want to know about charter schools.

Oh– Great.
Would you be willing to come to Little Chute and speak to our group on charter schools? We want to know more about them. We hear a lot about them but we never had them went I went to school, which was just a few years ago.
Ron had a very charming way about him. He was direct. He was honest. He was curious.

“Ron,” I stated, “when would you like me to come in?”
Well, we meet on Wednesday mornings at 9am at the Little Chute Community Center, it’s in the same building as the library. How about next Wednesday?

“I can’t wait. I’m really excited Ron. Do you need me to prepare anything.”
Just get ready to talk to a group of people all over 70. As his hearty chuckle faded, I felt anxious-excited nerves hit my stomach like the first sip of a Venti-Two-Pump-Pumpkinspice-with-skim-milk after a six month hiatus. What do I do now? How do I speak for the charter school movement? How do I represent the new charter school we’re starting? How do I keep the discussion informational & leave out radical rhetoric? Fortunately, the week flew by quickly and Wednesday morning rolled around before I could really plan out the discussion. I walked into the library and did what I do. I crushed my latte. Fired it in the trash–and started talking.

I came back to my classroom on Wednesday and was jacked. I said to Mrs. Van Hout as I walked in the door, “I love senior citizens.”
What?

I love senior citizens.”
You love all people
You’re right. I do.”

On my way back from talking with the HOV Senior Service Club, I was taking the sharp curve into the staff parking lot way too fast, all I could think about was this: I love people. I’m so lucky that I get to work with all sorts of people everyday. [sidebar]

Yesterday I made a friend. In fact, I made a few. Nobody clicked on a button requesting me to be their friend. I didn’t have to confirm our friendship.

Yesterday I furthered the following of charter schools; specifically, Kornerstone- the school I work in.

No Twitter. No Facebook. Just face time. Real face-to-face discussion. I enjoyed my time with my new friends immensely. The HOV Senior Service Club asked great questions and showed they were interested in charter schools by the quality of their questions. The group began the meeting with the President ringing a bell. The entire group rose to their feet at the sound of the bell and sang God Bless America, which was immediately followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m very familiar with both of these pieces- yet they had more significance yesterday. History. Pride. Context. I’m not sure why these songs resonated with me the way they did, but it was a great way to start the community meeting. The tone was set.

Enter self talk: I am here to provide a service to the community. I am here to inform. I am not here to sell.

The President states, “Ron has arranged a guest speaker for us today. Ron-”
I’ve got Mike McCabe here and he’s going to tell us about charter schools...

And the rest is my merit-based pay. Rather than give a play-by-play description and attempt to recreate the magic with poorly crafted cliches, I’m going to do what I do with most of the great parts of my day. I’m going to keep them to myself. I share my struggles freely. I vent to my wife, my colleagues, my parents, and my closest friends all of the time. It’s cathartic. The good stuff. I keep it. I can’t give it away. Most of the time it’s subtle. It’s a student asking to go on a field trip on a Saturday. It’s another student bringing in their baby. It’s the “Thanks Coach” after consoling an athlete. This is my merit pay. This is why I work in the public sector. Not tied to test scores. Unable to be published in the paper. Virtually unable to be shared with my wife who also teaches. She gets its. My wife understands the nuances that come with teaching. She’s an art teacher, a damn good art teacher. She knows what it’s like. The November to April grind. The Sunday night prep. The late Tuesday away game that leads into an early Wednesday morning IEP. She gets it. Not everyone does.

——————————————-[Enter sidebar below]

While typing up this entry on Thursday, the high school I currently teach in had a fire drill that lasted an hour. It wasn’t a drill at all. Apparently a smoke alarm malfunctioned. I think a wise young adult noticed the first day of summer and decided to trigger the alarm. It could have been a coincidence that each time 1300+ people walked towards school the alarm would sound again. Could have been. It could have been a faulty smoke detector. Could have been. I was grinding on this post and thinking deeply about new education mandates sweeping into the State of Wisconsin, specifically, merit pay. Word is, schools are going to get paid extra money if their students do well on standardized tests. I think we need to pull the fire alarm trigger. What if the money was given back to the State? What if the money was used to finance a group to eradicate standardized testing? That’s just what I was beginning to pound out on the keys when the unmistakable shakable sound pulsed through my room.

I have written about this before, but it notes repeating. My dear friend is a year older than me (30), and he left a position where he earned 6+ figures to start his own company. Needless to say, he is doing big things in the private sector. When I go to Madison for conferences or the state basketball tournament, I usually stay at his apartment. This past March, we were discussing merit pay. My friend stated something like this (pardon the loose paraphrase)
People in the private sector are motivated by getting more money for reaching their goals. In fact, some are solely motivated by such methods. There has to be a metric tied to performance comparing people who do the same job. Those who outperform their colleagues on the metric are compensated; this has to exist in those industries where the workers are motivated by money. The private sector doesn’t recognize the public sector is not motivated by the same principles.

My friend is right. I did not get into this profession to raise students standardized test scores. I did not get into the education business to profit off of metrics that measure little that means anything. I got into this profession because I love people and I want to improve my community. The public sector, specifically teachers, receive far different benefits than the private sector. I would argue the more effective teachers receive greater merit pay that I alluded to earlier. The teachers who care, the teachers who devote their entire lives to the practice of educating and connecting with youth get paid more than my colleagues who are not vested in the students. Why else would people come back year-after-year? Why else would talented people work for half what they could make in private sector? I know what some haters are saying as they read this. I know many people think teachers are overpaid and under worked. The next time a local superintendent changes jobs or retires, read the comments left by the cowards who don’t sign their names. Many of the ignorant have no idea what someone running an entire district faces. There’s a rift. Many tax payers think educators are overpaid. Many of those in the education business feel unappreciated; I think this is especially true in the higher levels of district management (it’s very lonely at the top). One solution to address the rift is merit pay. In theory, “lets pay the good teachers” is an awesome thought. Now lets put it into practice. What’s the metric used? How are we going to continue to foster collaboration and freely share intellectual property when our compensation depends on our output? How do I do my job and keep my students interest in front of kissing up to administration and marketing my teaching practice? We need to pull the alarm on merit-pay. We need to carefully examine the metrics used and continue to make sure the merit-pay I refer to takes priority over the merit-pay methods used in the private sector.

For non educators who are parents, my message is very real. This discussion is not philosophical. You know the feeling you get when your child says, “Thank you daddy” for the first time? When your two year old says, “Thank you for tying my shoe daddy,” or “thank you for getting my milk for me.” That feeling is real. The sense of providing for another human being has merit. Gratitude can be measured. And when the technology exist to measure gratitude, I am confident that my definition of merit-pay will far exceed any monetary figure.

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About Michael

Do Work!
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One Response to The Coolest Thing I’ve Been A Part of in Awhile…My Merit Pay

  1. Sandi says:

    Good stuff, Michael. I like all of it very much and I really enjoyed the twitter link to ‘not everyone understands this.’ Nice touch. 🙂

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