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Good Teachers, Bad Bosses, and Merit Pay

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

I just finished up my fourteenth (and final) year in the classroom. During that time, I have worked for seven principals and nineteen assistant principals. The overwhelming majority of these individuals were exceptional professionals who genuinely cared about their students and staff and helped me become a better educator and person.

Proposed Merit-Based Salary Schedule

But right now, I want to talk about the other one. Now, I know it's poor form to speak negatively of a colleague or supervisor, but right now, I think it's necessary. Why? Because North Carolina is considering a move to a merit-based system of financial compensation for teachers that is largely dependent upon subjective measures such as summative evaluations by principals.

Dr. Mann was new to our school in the 2018-2019 school year and, because I had just been selected as the Teacher of the Year and ran the school's chapter of National Honor Society, he wanted to meet with me over the summer to get my help with numerous project. He wanted me to charter a new club (which I quickly grew to be the largest club in the school), help gather volunteers for freshman orientation, create documents for the staff, and numerous other tasks, all of which I did during my unpaid summer break.

Midway through the year, Dr. Mann walked into my classroom minutes before second block and handed me the letter below. He said that a copy would be placed in my personnel file at the district office and walked out the door. There was no time for me to do more than skim the letter, much less ask questions about its content as students were already walking up the ramp to my mobile unit.

Letter from Dr. Mann placing me on a Monitored Growth Plan using incorrect data, a false data, and the wrong subject area.

After the bell rang at the end of the day, I read the letter carefully. I noticed that he lied about the date the letter was handed to me, the numerical data provided was factually incorrect (my Civics and World History scores that year were significantly higher than the district average), and that he suggested I reach out to the district's Math coach for assistance with my curriculum planning. It wasn't until later that I noticed he forgot to delete "Principal's signature" at the bottom and replace it with, you know, his signature, but I think it's pretty hilarious now.

To say that I was mad would be an understatement. Not only was his data incorrect, but he changed my evaluation plan, had this placed in my personnel file, and handled the situation in an extremely unprofessional, inconsiderate manner (again, he basically handed me a letter saying I was a terrible teacher as my students were entering the classroom).

That night, I emailed the district office and asked them to amend the letter to include the correct scores, date, and my subject area if they were going to place it in my file. The next day, Dr. Mann let me know that the letter would not go in my personnel file with the district, but I would still need to submit my lesson plans on a weekly basis like the other teachers who received the same letter.

For the next fifteen weeks, I submitted my lesson plans to a shared Google Drive folder for him to review. He never even opened a single one.

So, why share this four years after the fact when I'm leaving the classroom anyway?

Because if the proposed salary changes would have been in place when I worked for Dr. Mann, he could potentially determine whether I was a teacher that was worth $45k or $72k a year by what he wrote down on my annual summative evaluation (at this point, I know you'd be shocked to hear it was the worst evaluation I have ever received).

Having a system in place where a school administrator can make a decision that impacts a teacher's salary by $27k annually is extremely problematic.

What would have happened the following year when I had to file a grievance with the district after he took away my ability to eat lunch four days a week? Would I have had to grin and bear it to avoid a pay cut?

When a bad principal runs a school, good teachers often find themselves in the crosshairs by advocating for students and occasionally speaking up for themselves, but those incredible teachers can't afford to lose a third of their salary.

Instead of creating a new and fundamentally-flawed system, we could just do right by our teachers and pay them an appropriate wage that doesn't necessitate them working additional jobs to make ends meet (and while we're at it, we can fund schools properly so teachers don't have to spend their income on classroom supplies).

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