Sunday, January 8, 2012

If I Had a Million Dollars

An energetic colleague I respect once publically stated, “I do not think I would work any harder than I do now if I were paid a million dollars a year.”

Growing up in a house with eight siblings and having to share one bathroom, I often dreamed of what I would do if I had a $1,000,000. Prior to my colleague’s comment, my financial fantasies always focused on the merit end of the financial windfall. My million dollar dreams involved lots of travel, some altruistic efforts, some expensive toys, security for my family, and plenty of bathrooms. Never did I consider the sacrifice end of earning the extra million bucks.

After much reflection—stirred by the merit pay proposals bombarding public education in this new age of teacher accountability, I concur with my aforementioned colleague. I would not work any harder if I were paid a million dollars.

I do not want to come off as disingenuous in this post. I am a dreamer to a fault. I would not refuse a million-dollar bone thrown my way. However, I would not work harder. I already put in 40-plus hour workweeks during the regular school year, teach during the summer months, and fill some of my non-contract time with curriculum and teacher development activities. I could work harder, but at the detriment of my children’s development, my marriage, my relationships with extended family, my neighbors, and my community. This sacrifice is not worth a million dollars.

As one of my brothers often says, I am already a king. Even without a $1,000,000--blessed are those who work hard but are involved in their children’s lives, rich in marriage, enriched by time with friends, family, and neighbors, and civically engaged in their community. I, and other educators, try to model this healthy, rich, and balanced lifestyle for our students.

Obviously, a certain balance of work and pay makes for this “kingly” (middle class) world. The current, well-defined pay schedules already used by most school districts provide the security necessary to motivate educators. Consequently, in Wisconsin, we have seen how attacking this security lowers morale.

If merit pay advocates know of a better way for me to teach, prove it to me and I will do it. If pay for performance proponents are concerned about motivating teachers, why not just ask teachers what they really want? I will bet it is not a $1,000,000.

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