How should teachers be rewarded?

by Jim Lang

How should teachers be rewarded?

That was the question posed to me by my state senator, Ron Grooms, this morning. It’s a serious question with no easy answers.

We’ve all heard phrases like “merit pay” and “performance-based compensation” thrown around by those advocating education reform in Indiana and in other states. We’re also aware of what much of the research shows: that performance incentives like merit pay have little impact on students’ academic achievements. One look at the results of the 2010 National Center for Performance Incentives study from Vanderbilt University proves this.

I have always believed that those who support merit pay fundamentally misunderstand teachers. Quite simply, money doesn’t motivate most of us. If it did, we’d be using our considerable skills to make a lot more money in another profession. Most teachers I know will not be motivated to grade more papers, develop more exceptional lesson plans, or provide that extra time to a struggling student simply because of the promise of a financial reward. And I certainly do not think financial rewards should be provided based on our students’ test scores.

Still, Ron’s question remains, and I think it’s a perfect opportunity to get a discussion going while perhaps providing him some feedback.

So, to my teacher friends, fellow educators, parents, students, and anyone else who’s reading and who cares to comment, here are some questions to think about:

  • What are your suggestions for rewarding exceptional teachers?
  • How should this be measured and/or determined by local school corporations?
  • What should our state legislators consider in determining how to reward good teachers?

Feel free to respond to any or all of the above questions in the comments section. If you feel comfortable doing so, let us know a little about your teaching experience and/or interest in Indiana education as well.

This should make for an interesting dialogue.



  1. McKenna says

    How should teachers be rewarded? First of all I don’t think that faculty or members of the school corporation should choose the teachers who get rewarded. I think that students and parents should choose.  The reason is when a teacher gets rewarded usually they’re looking at how high their test scores are usually and sometimes come and sit in one day.  Students however, are with the teacher every day and parents can judge how well their student is doing based on grades they are consistently receiving in the classroom not just on one test.
    I think that teachers should be rewarded with materials they would like for their classrooms.  I constantly hear teachers say “please take care of these things because I paid for them with my own money.” some teachers I know would like new things for their classroom but simply can’t afford them. With the new materials teachers can reach students in a new way that they feel will help them learn better.

  2. Jim Lang says

    Interesting comments, McKenna. Your response brings up another factor for school corporations to consider: parent and and student evaluations. Should these be a part of a teacher’s evaluation, for example?

  3. Mike Beal says

    How bout rewarding the school or the corp. with increased health benefits, insurance, investment, etc. Then all the teachers/administrators work as a team and get rewarded as a team for any successes they achieve. Most teachers already work 110% and more money won’t make them work harder. If the fear of throwing money at the problem is the issue, then, reward them by taking off the pressure of taking care of their family—give them more peace of mind by having 1st class health insurance, 1st class retirement benefits, 1st class life insurance, etc. at low rates…

  4. DFS says


    You’re right that money isn’t the motivation for you, nor for a lot of other teachers that have established teaching jobs. There is another side of the question though… How do we reward and attract NEW teachers? Young talented people considering their future options don’t often look twice at the prospect of teaching. I know I didn’t – the degree program was strenuous (but not anything close to useful outside of teaching) and the starting compensation was too low. I wouldn’t have been able to make it on teaching wages alone, while repaying all my student loans.

    (The student loan issue is a whole other waffle to toss – the government made loans widely available so the colleges upped tuition and class sizes to rake in the cash. By the time I went to school, it was impossible to keep my course load AND a job to help pay for school. I was in too deep.
    Also, at some Indiana community colleges, the attrition rate is 25% after two weeks. Those students pop in to grab their student loan money, sit in desks long enough for said money to drop into their accounts, and then they split.)

    This whole issue upsets me because I’ve been afforded so many opportunities that have their base at FC, with teachers pushing me (and sometimes pulling me against my will) to do my best. I’m scared for the future generations because I just don’t see the same caliber person going into teaching today and when they do, they don’t stay long. All my peers that did go into teaching were excellent teachers and coaches but they have moved on to greener pastures. They can make more elsewhere.

    If the government is serious about revamping the education system and restoring American prominence in education, they must suffer the glorious consequences of capitalism like every other consumer and pay up. If they want talented people to become educators, they had better provide for them the recompense they seek. Offer scholarships and loan forgiveness and monetary bonuses, or else. People can get waaaaay easier jobs for more money with just about any degree.

    My Experience:

    Former subject to Journalism experiments at FCHS (2000-2002)

    Also, I’ve been a teacher for the past 10 years in different capacities….not as long as some of you but I’ve been widely exposed. I worked as a teacher in the only biotechnology education center for children in the US. I have lectured to college biology students in 100 level intro classes and the equivalent of 500 and 600 level graduate courses. I also work with medical and legal professionals throughout the country, teaching new software and computer networking skills in settings that range from small office to 10,000+ provider healthcare systems.

  5. Jim Lang says

    David: The shame is that in all of this talk of educational reform, there’s been little talk of why we’re not attracting people like you into the profession. I love your ideas of offering loan forgiveness and other similar incentives to teachers-to-be. Unfortunately, much of the talk of financial incentives for teachers seems tied to their students’ test scores with little recognition that students’ academic achievement is often the result of societal and economic factors beyond a classroom teacher’s control. For the record, I still think you’d make a wonderful teacher.

  6. DFS says

    “Unfortunately, much of the talk of financial incentives for teachers seems tied to their students’ test scores with little recognition that students’ academic achievement is often the result of societal and economic factors beyond a classroom teacher’s control.”

    That’s so true. The Senator’s question should have been more along the lines of, “How can we motivate as many students as possible to achieve higher education goals?” and not, “How should teachers be rewarded?”

    If part of the answer is indeed financial incentives to attract talented teachers then I’m all for it…but the simple fact is that recruiting new and skilled teachers is not a cure or even a treatment for the real issues that students face. To get to the problems at home or at school that are really holding a student back, it will take more than well-paid teachers.

    More money shouldn’t be the issue anyway – America already ranks 2nd globally in per-pupil spending. The last statistic I read stated that only 30% of American students are testing proficient in science and technology and only 3% are being marked advanced. We’re in the midst of a global technological revolution, the like of which has never been seen on our little planet. Yet only 3% of our kids have crucial understanding of technology. Call me naive, but I just don’t think money is the issue.

    When the government fails, private sector often picks up the slack. Maybe we’ll see that trend accelerate with regards to education.

    And about loan forgiveness…

    The government does offer a few options but they are meager and only kick in after a couple of years of loan payments, so they aren’t helpful with the initial financial problems that come from settling down, taking a job, and paying off loans.

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