Chapter and verse on merit pay: How much is a teacher worth?

Molly Phillips taught in Georgia for 15 years, including a decade in Gwinnett. She has a degree in early childhood and a master’s degree with a focus on reading and literacy. (And her husband is a teacher.)

Three years ago, she left the classroom to create educational materials. A top seller on Teachers Pay Teachers, Phillips created a social studies curriculum based off the Georgia Performance Standards.

Phillips shared a poem she wrote about “merit pay.”  Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal plans to push for merit pay for the state’s teachers.

How much is the Teacher Worth?
What is merit?
By definition, it is the quality of being particularly good.
Or, the quality of being worthy,
Especially so as to deserve praise or reward.
In the case of school teachers, their merit could soon determine their pay.
But, how do you determine a teacher’s merit?
Who gets to determine the value of a teacher?
Who gets to decide their individual worth?
The reality is, no one in particular will determine the teacher’s worth.
The truth is, circumstances will govern their merit.
Circumstances that change from year to year will decide if a teacher is valuable.
Whose circumstances affect the teacher’s pay?
The students that are placed in that teacher’s classroom.
Every year it’s a new set of circumstances.
That’s right. I guess the teacher could be valuable one year and worth significantly less the next.
It really depends on the circumstances.
A teacher’s merit won’t be determined by the hours she works.
It won’t be determined by her degrees.
It won’t be determined by the extra tutoring sessions after school.
It won’t be determined by the supplies she purchased with her own money.
It won’t be determined by the trainings she attended twice a week after school.
It won’t be determined by the hours spent re-teaching a concept to the same child day after day.
It won’t be determined by the phone calls home and conferences she tried to schedule.
It won’t be determined by her sleepless nights wondering how to help a child.
It won’t be determined by the highly focused lessons she planned and taught each day.
It won’t be determined by her 20 years of successful teaching.
It won’t be determined by winning Teacher of the Year two times in those 20 years.
Really?…..not even Teacher of the Year?
Titles mean nothing when it comes to Merit Pay.
She has a new set of challenges this year.
The village she needs in order to help the students is nowhere to be found.
Her students are well below grade level.
Some are abused.
Some are hungry.
Some spend their evenings babysitting younger siblings. They fall asleep to the TV at midnight.
Some sleep in hotels.  Others sleep in cars.
Remember that word…. Circumstances.
No food, no parental involvement, no home.
No love, no dedication, no care.
No doctors, No dentists.
 Their clothing is too small and their hair isn’t brushed.
These circumstances will determine the teacher’s pay.
Politicians say her students should leave her class reading on grade level.
The reality is… they came to her not reading at all.  Some have never had a story read to them at home.
The politicians say her students should leave her class writing a two page story.
The reality is… they came to her not writing their name. One child didn’t even know his name.
Circumstances are no way to determine value.

Reader Comments 0


In this poem, the teacher/writer sums up what I've said for many years.  Students in classrooms are not numbers to be crunched; comodities to be valued or devalued.  After 32 years, I retired. Teachers are being held accountable for so many variables beyond our control.  I hope to continue teaching, but not in the public sector.  


@kharruss I'm thinking that statisticians have developed algorithms which allow student differences to be accounted for before any teacher contributions to student learning would be determined.


Oh Dear.

A shorter answer: a teacher is worth what the market will bear.

I.e., what a willing employer will pay and a willing teacher will accept.

Will Munny: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.



"How much is a teacher worth?" A good one is invaluable. A  bad one isn't worth much.

But, rather than elaborating on the two answers to the aforementioned question, might I propose several other questions: How can we differentially reward teachers and administrators whose students learn what our curricula task them to learn? How can we also reward those teachers whose departments and schools demonstrate success in helping our kids achieve their respective prescribed curricular goals? (How might other staff in successful schools be rewarded?) Furthermore, how might we statistically control for student differences to level the instructional and administrative playing fields as much as possible?


When will the small group of malcontents who frequent this blog stop whining about accountability (and parental choice)?

If any are actually teachers they're clearly in the wrong profession.


This teacher, before merit pay, had students who did not know their last name.

A student who did not know how to use a fork--he ate with his hands.

A student who called the teacher to the bathroom, in hysterics,at the sight of the foot long tapeworm she had expelled into the toilet after mama gave her "worm medicine."

Students who were mystified by the indoor toilet.

Many male students who saw no reason to go inside to use the bathroom.

Kindergarten students who were dropped off at school about 7 am on days there was no school.

Students not old enough for kindergarten who were sent to school because their parent had "something to do."

Students who came to school without shoes.

Students who had been injured previously but not taken to the doctor so the arm set turned in and useless.

A student who got very sick after eating the bologna in the fridge after the power had been off for a few days.

A student who died when her appendix ruptured after days of agony.

Students who fell asleep night after night playing Grand Theft Auto with "mama's boyfriend."

Quantify that.


@Wascatlady This is exactly why we need better teachers. Good ones should be paid accordingly.  What do we do with teachers - 6th grade teachers - who send home notes with grammar such as "I have send X to the office?"  If a teacher can't read, write or speak standard English how can they effectively teach?


@Starik @Wascatlady I agree. There are sometimes typos, but it is inexcusable for a teacher not to speak English correctly in the United States. My former school's speech teacher says "have went" and "had did".  Inexcusable!