What Really Motivates Teachers
Here on the Brilliant Blog we’ve been talking about the drawbacks of paying students for good grades. Daniel Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind, says pay-for-performance doesn’t work so well for teachers, either:
“Fifty years of social science tells us that ‘if-then’ rewards—that is, ‘If you do this, then you get that”—are great for simple, routine tasks and not so great for complicated, creative tasks. Since teaching is creative and complex rather than simple and algorithmic, tying teacher pay to student performance (especially on standardized tests) flies in the face of the broad evidence.
What’s more, the specific evidence—a cluster of recent studies that have examined ‘if-then’ pay schemes in schools—has shown them to be failures. Contingent pay for teachers just isn’t effective.
The fact that ‘if-then’ motivators often go awry doesn’t mean that rewards in general or money in particular are bad. Not at all. The research shows that money matters. It just matters in a slightly different way than we suspect. Paying people unfairly—say, when Jane makes less than June for the same work—is extremely demotivating. And, of course, low salaries can deter some people from pursuing certain professions.
Therefore, the best use of money as a motivator, at least for complex work, is to compensate people fairly and to try to take the issue of money off the table. That means paying healthy base salaries—and in the private sector, offering some non-gameable variable pay such as profit-sharing.” Read more here.
It’s really smart of Pink to be thinking about what actually motivates people—and really respectful to be treating teachers as professionals and not lever-pushing pigeons.