Are teachers who pay teachers safe

Performance-based payment for teachers!

When I entered the Piarist Gymnasium in Krems in the fall of 1951, my father was the headmaster of the school. Even before school started, he told me that he would never intervene with my teachers about a grade, but that he would help me in another way: When assigning teachers, he would make sure that I got people from whom I could learn something. Nepotism through the back door, so to speak.

Teachers as challenge cups

He didn't quite keep up with this announcement. Already after the third geography lesson it was clear to us students that the geography teacher, a friendly, elderly gentleman, simply "can't". Why did we, as ten-year-olds, come to this judgment so quickly? Because we had a comparison to the history teacher. There are whole worlds of teaching in between. (Because of this constant and daily comparison, the teachers have such bad cards in the public eye. The distribution of experts and non-experts does not look much different with doctors, lawyers and mechanics than with teachers. Only whole host of mediocre representatives of these guilds live completely good that they are only frequented sporadically, and the patient / customer often lacks a direct comparison.)

By the way, our geography teacher disappeared as if by magic before Christmas. Relocated to another school a hundred kilometers away. Also a form of performance appraisal. At that time these teachers were called challenge cups.

Obviously, teacher quality has always been an issue. However, for a long time not a public one. That has changed dramatically today. That is why the federal government has decided to give the quality of teachers a boost by means of performance-based pay. The fact that the head of the teachers' union is about to declare chaos in this context does not need to worry one. Painting the devil on the wall is part of his business. But the hurdles for a new system that is supposed to work are pretty high.

More money

The first is still quite easy to skip if you consider extra money to be an easy hurdle. My school had thirty teachers at the time. The teaching staff of a medium-sized Viennese secondary school today comprises ninety to one hundred people. No football coach in the world can get a serious picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the players when his squad comprises a hundred men. No business executive can do that either. And no school principal either. The introduction of an appraisal system worthy of the name therefore requires noticeable investments in the management structure of a school in advance, which will not only meet with little enthusiasm from the finance minister.

The second hurdle is higher. Teachers' ability cannot be measured with a stopwatch and tape measure. Even with clearly defined assessment criteria and optimal training of school directors and supervisors, the performance assessment remains a subjective judgment, which in individual cases can also be flawed. Opponents of such a system will therefore try to overload it with possibilities of appeal and moves to appeal under the slogan "minimizing the error rate".

Courage of the directors

Managers usually value leadership comfort. Telling employees openly that their performance is valued less highly than that of a colleague and that this also has corresponding financial consequences does not exactly encourage the expansion of the comfort zone and requires a gift that is as precious as it is rare: courage. From my time at IBM, where we had a complex appraisal process more than fifty years ago, I know that many department heads were nervous about speaking plainly to employees.

School principals are certainly no braver than IBM managers. And risk-free appeals for teachers who feel unjustly judged and who cannot be dismissed allow the level of courage of directors to drop to zero. Therefore, hands off any possibility of appeal. The assessor is first and at the same time last instance! The current system, which lumps all teachers together regardless of their performance, is much more unfair than a new system, even if it cannot be perfect.

15 to 20 percent difference in salary

And finally the highest hurdle that I would like to try again with my experience as a student. Our history teacher would certainly have earned at least twice the salary of the geography teacher. Since I'm not a fanatic, I don't even dream of such differences in salaries. But there should be a 15 to 20 percent difference in salary with the same seniority in a new system, so that it doesn't turn into eyecatching or farce. If the sum of teachers 'salaries is not to increase, which will be a demand from both the finance minister and the public, with whom I agree, then the teachers' salaries in the lower performance quarter must be frozen, if not reduced, at least for a longer period of time the teachers in the top performance quarter can at least gradually be introduced to the salary level they are entitled to. I consciously speak of performance quarters. A system would be absurd if, out of 100 teachers assessed, 70 were assessed with a one or at least a two, 25 with a three, and only five with a lower grade. Therefore, clear and unambiguous guidelines will be needed.

I am not familiar with civil service law. But it doesn't take much imagination to imagine that this nut will be very difficult to crack. I wish the government a lot of courage and even more luck! (Bernhard Görg, October 31, 2018)

Bernhard Görg (Born 1942) was ÖVP boss, city councilor, deputy mayor in Vienna and co-founded the Karl Popper School. Before starting his political career, he held several positions in human resources at IBM Austria and Europe.

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