Is merit-pay for teachers an "insult?"

One Wisconsin teacher thinks so. But Claudia Felske of East Troy is not just any Wisconsin teacher. Felske is the 2010 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year. In a recent Marquette University blog post, Felske sounded off on what she called her "visceral response" to the idea of merit-pay for teachers.

Felske wrote, "the notion of teacher bonuses is at odds with my core values, with who I am as a professional, an educator, a human being." "If we look at teaching as a means to a bonus, if we see our students as dollar signs, we will destroy their humanity and ours."

Felske went on to write that she felt "insulted" and "violated" because "embedded within the idea of bonuses is the presumption that I don’t do my best, and that I’d do better for $50 or $200 or $1000." "I don’t know of a single person who went into education for the money," she said.

Claudia Felske’s criticism of merit-pay falls flat for two reasons.

First, teachers are not all super-human individuals driven solely by purpose and not money. Merit-pay is rooted in human nature and the the fact that human beings respond to incentives. Merit-pay, as in most any other job, is meant to provide a monetary incentive for exceptional work. Bonuses are a reward, and one that nearly every other profession utilizes to produce better results. Felske is arguing that teachers cannot be motivated by money, which is no doubt false.

Second, Felske is lecturing the wrong state about how much teachers care about students and not money. Actions, like always, speak louder than words. And over the past two years, Wisconsinites have seen firsthand just how much "it’s all about the children." From teachers calling in sick to protest, to protesting the Governor at a voucher school, to spending millions of dollars to force a failed recall effort, many teachers in Wisconsin have shown just how much it isn’t about the children. Instead, it’s about pensions, healthcare, union dues for political purposes, and in many cases inflated salaries based solely on seniority.