The True Meaning of Rewarding Excellence in Education
Reward is often an excellent motivator. A reward can come in the form of an acclaimed achievement, acknowledgements by peers and superiors, or simply self-recognition of desired achievements. Naturally, monetary rewards are frequently treasured, but they are, by no means, always the most effective rewards. Today, the teaching profession, in an effort to attract more of the very best practitioners, is in dire need of achievement rewards, or acknowledgements of successful work. There is not much we can do about educator salaries, since these are typically negotiated between staff and union with many other considerations bartered on the table. However, there are many non-monetary rewards which can also serve as motivators. This is particularly necessary at a time when we are facing a crisis of teacher shortages in many critical areas of education. One possible reward is acclamation by peers for outstanding work.
The Education Update newspaper has, over the past couple of years, taken this form of professional motivation to heart with its annual Outstanding Educator of the Year awards. Sadly, there are not enough such “competitions” for educators, one of the most important professions in our society. Both regionally and subject-specific, we as a society must make a greater effort to acknowledge outstanding and dedicated work of teachers and other educators. For example, one of the outstanding teacher Education Update awardees this year, Jane Viau, a math teacher at the Frederick Douglass Academy, was selected on the basis of her fine teaching skills and exemplary dedication to the profession. This professional entered teaching a bit later in life than most, after having had a successful career in the finance world, and sacrificing a salary, which was ten times that which she is earning as a teacher. Moreover, she also used her entire spring vacation to meet daily with her advanced-placement-statistics class to ensure them the best possible scores on the Advanced-Placement test. Such dedication should never go unnoticed and should be appropriately recognized by peers and others, as is the case this year by Education Update.
It would be nice if, in the course of time, the education systems in the United States could also recognize such extraordinary dedication through salary rewards. Alternatively, a tiered promotional system, analogous to that at the university level, where there are different levels of professorship, might also be instituted at the pre-college level. For example, teachers might be able to attain various levels, such as intern teacher, novice teacher, teacher, lead teacher, and master teacher. Each of these might then be on graduated salary schedules.
The idea of recognizing outstanding teachers, which is slowly becoming institutionalized through Education Update, should be a wake-up call to the profession that one of the best ways to motivate teachers is through a sensible and fair reward system.
Dr. Alfred Posamentier is Dean of the School of Education at City College of NY, author of over 40 Mathematics books including: “Math Wonders to Inspire Teachers and Students” (ASCD, 2003) and “The Fabulous Fibonacci Numbers” (Prometheus, 2007), and member of the NYS Mathematics Standards Committee.#