Peter Lyons: Merit pay? Bring it on and show me the money

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Photo / Kellie Blizard
Photo / Kellie Blizard

Peter Lyons reckons he has what it takes to be the best teacher south of Tokyo.

A key rule of economics is that incentives shape human behaviour for better or worse. I am starting to like the idea of performance pay for teachers.

I have taught for more than 20 years. I have authored text books in my subject and been a lecturer for beginning teachers in commerce.

I think a merit-based system of pay would suit me.

On the first day of my teacher training, the lecturer asked us why we wanted to teach. Many of my fellow students had noble ideals such as wanting to make a difference or share their passion for learning. One woman even said she liked children.

I said I wanted long holidays. But if my pay depended on my performance my attitude would certainly change.

I teach economics, which is an option students can choose to take. If performance pay was introduced the first thing I would do is restrict those students who could take my subject. There will be no low achievers or slackers taking my subject if it costs me money. This shouldn't be a problem, as the guy who teaches geography is a nice chap and still believes that all students can succeed so he can pick up the leftovers. I feel a bit sorry for those who teach core subjects such as English because they have to teach everyone, but that's their problem for spending their university days reading poetry, drinking cheap cask wine and smoking dubious cigarettes.

There is little point in teaching the less able kids if my pay packet depends on exam results. I'll leave that to the idealistic first-year teachers who believe they can make a difference.

I will drill my students in what they need to know for the exams. It is pretty simple, as NCEA exams are relatively consistent each year. I would demand that students give priority to homework in my subject otherwise they will face endless detentions. I will focus exclusively on the exams. There is no point in teaching students about financial literacy and how to manage money if this is not going to improve their marks and my pay. Show me the money! I love incentives.

Under merit pay I have a great opportunity to be one of the highest paid teachers in New Zealand. I will get my NCEA students to do endless resits of internal assessments until they get it right. I will make them rote learn the answers for the exam until they can repeat them in their sleep. Any student unable to perform this simple cognitive task will be withdrawn from sitting the exam to maintain my excellent pass rates. Nothing will be allowed to interfere with my desire to be the best teacher south of Tokyo. I will earn my nickname of "Monotony Lyons".

I am fortunate to work in a department with innovative and sharing teachers. It's great working with caring and sharing types and for some reason, there seem to be a lot of them in teaching. They tell me about the exciting learning activities they are doing with their students. Each week when I visit the principal to talk about my successes, I will tell him about these innovative teaching methods that I am running with my students.

There is little point in being fantastic in the classroom if no one knows about it.

Each school assembly, notices will be read out announcing that I am running yet another extra-curricula activity. I may have to invent a few imaginary clubs but that doesn't matter as long as people are aware of the vast extent of my contributions to the wider life of the school. I teach at a Catholic boys school. I could set up an Islamic prayer group or a cross stitching club. That would ensure few attendees and little extra work.

I teach the Cambridge international examination system. This is an English franchise that some schools have adopted because of concerns about NCEA. This system allows students to resit at mid-year the next year if they are unhappy with their results. I would insist that all students taking my subject do a resit to improve their previous year's results. This should ensure the cash flows my way.

When exam results are announced at the start of each year and my students do the best, I will humbly rise to my feet in the staffroom. I will announce with suitable humility that examination success is largely the result of student application and ability combined with excellent teaching.

Such success can only be the result of 100 per cent application by teacher and student. I do a fine line in humility when the occasion requires and money is on the line. Merit pay for teachers? Bring it on!

- NZ Herald

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