Will higher salaries improve teaching quality?

MAY 8 — Recently, I read an article about how increasing teachers’ salaries might improve the quality of education in the country. 

While I don’t deny that, as much as most workers in Malaysia, teachers in general are criminally underpaid, I’m not all that convinced of the correlation between educators’  salaries and learning excellence.

If that were absolutely true, then we should see far better educational practices in universities than we do in primary schools. But do we? Hell no.

If more pay equalled better teaching, then within educational institutions the higher paid lecturer should be getting much better class reviews than others, but is this true? No way.

Again, all credit to any call to raise the pay and welfare of educators but, and I hate myself for saying this, teaching is first and foremost about loving your subject and your students so much you’d be offended at the idea that more money can motivate you to be a better teacher.

Certainly, if College X offers me a ton more than College Y, I’d go with Y and tell X to take a hike. 

But my voluntary and continued improvement as an educator in College Wherever has almost zilch connection with the numbers in my bank account.

Dude, if you joined the education industry solely because you think you’re gonna be the next Howard Gardner (see note 1) and be the next big name in education and make obscene amounts of cash, you’re delusional. 

The only super-rich teachers I know are those who a) start their own tuition centres or b) produce a cool new methodology that the whole Universe wants to hear from them or c) become a Head of School in a highly prestigious institution. 

The first is rarer than a purple cow, the second is more of a researcher than an educator, and the third will basically give up teaching.

Bottom line: If you became a lecturer or trainer because there was no other job you could find, chances are you’d be out in a jiffy OR you’ll suck bad. 

I don’t think Teach For Malaysia would disagree. Show me someone whose day job involves educating people and who doesn’t love the role for its own sake who’s nevertheless a recognised success, and I’ll show you an undercover spy.

Teaching just doesn’t work that way.

Sure, raising the minimum salary may cause a few thousand fresh grads to “consider” taking up a Bachelor of Education. 

But a more attractive pay slip will not motivate these same folks to watch and re-watch the best public speakers in the world in the hope of copying their groove. 

Money alone will not push even existing teachers (let alone new ones) to spend hours surfing the Web and researching cutting edge pedagogy so their students get many extra moments of pure cool. 

Cash won’t make you infatuated with the subject to the point where, after a few classes, even your most bored students have had their hair blown back and are telling their friends, “Wow, my teacher absolutely loves what she teaches.”

Like the Beatles told us, Money can’t buy us love — it sure as hell won’t buy a teacher’s passion either. 

To rephrase Teach for Malaysia’s co-founder Dzameer Dzulkifli’s statement, “You need to sell teaching as a hard job”, I’d insist that we should sell teaching as heartwork

* Note 1: If you’re not an educator and you don’t know who he is, it just proves my point. Seriously, how many “world famous” (or just “Malaysia-famous”) teachers have you heard of? But if you’re an educator and you haven’t heard of Dr Gardner then you’re welcomed to join one of my sessions on teaching creatively named “Effective Teaching Delivery.” Fee is a week’s supply of char kuey teow (negotiable).

* This is the porsonal opinion of the columnist.

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