Payment and Reward

I love Twitter, it’s a great place to find new things, meet people and have conversations. But there inevitably comes a point where you run into trouble because nuance and shade can’t be explained in 140 characters, so you spend tweets explaining what you meant rather than carrying the conversation forward and it all gets bogged down.

And it’s immediate – if you don’t pop it out quickly or get distracted by the bedtime routine, the conversation may have been swept away by the 5 other conversations the participants are also involved in. Or perhaps it’s bedtime in their house too.

Enter blogs. This is where you can take the time to think and the space to explain, and other people can join in with comments.

So. Payment and rewards, specifically for teachers.

At first glance I’m the postergirl for the view that opportunity and purpose are more motivating than money. Heck I have been doing what amounts to a part-time job for almost two years writing Science@home on a volunteer basis – I put hours in every single week and the monetary rewards have been almost nil.

But let’s be very clear this is a luxury. I can do this because of what my husband earns and our chosen lifestyle. People who choose a different lifestyle or don’t have that partnership also don’t have that luxury. And while it is simple to tell people they should change their lifestyle, doesn’t that go to the heart of what ‘reward’ is? The ability to do the things we enjoy?

Secondly, I may have got very little out of Science@home as yet, that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. In reality I’m going for a delayed reward rather than immediate, but I do expect it to be there in the end. Already I’m being published, which adds to my credibility as a science writer, and I have work for CSIRO which is directly attributable to my blog.

On a more ambitious scale I’d like to get into schools and work with teachers on how they do science, teaching literacy through other learning areas, and I might be able to convince people to let me work with teachers on other things like ICT in the classroom. And that won’t be volunteer work.

Would I put this much effort into something that was boring but potentially lucrative? No. But equally I wouldn’t put this much effort into something interesting that will never have a return. I can’t afford to. And everyone has a point in their hobby where they get bored, or it’s frustrating and they need a break. Even the most exciting intrinsic motivation doesn’t work all the time. Which is fine if you can have a break for a while, but not if there is a reason you need to keep going.

So money is a consideration, and an important one, in what people can do and choose to do. It is a hook to getting people in before they have experienced it for themselves.

Beyond the Basics

Once you get past the essential question of how will I live in the manner I would like to be accustomed to, the new question is what will keep me motivated to work at the highest level. This is the point at which money becomes less important and intrinsic having fun comes into it. However there are caveats.

The first and simplest is that very few people get to pick and choose which bits they do. Every job has parts that are less pleasant. It’s different for everyone and it would be lovely if we could all choose just the good bits, but it won’t work that way. One person can’t do all the programming for someone else to do the classroom and another person do the behaviour management. I’m working to get to a position where I have more choice than the average teacher which is great for me, but a school system can’t run purely by consultants. There have to be people picking up the boring, unmotivating jobs. And if you don’t have intrinsic motivation, there needs to be something else.

In a related vein, there are times that the same job is more difficult for reasons unrelated to the job. Obvious examples are teaching in remote areas or schools with challenging behaviours. It gets difficult here, because these situations are not ones you would want people there purely for the money. And there are a lot of people who enjoy the lifestyle or the challenge, but it is still a highly stressful job. Ideally it would be nice to compensate people in ways other than money, say extra non-contact time to pursue other projects, but if people are there because they enjoy it is time off a reward? What if they would like to travel during their time off in order to relax and extra money during the term helps them do that?

Which brings us to perceptions of fairness. People feel exploited if they are in a situation they feel is unfair. Especially when there is someone higher up the payscale they feel is not pulling their weight, or at the same level but doing less work. Even someone who is happy with their own situation individually can become unhappy when it is compared to someone else. And money, for better or worse, is easily measured and compared.

And money is not just money. Money is acknowledgement of a job well done (I’m not saying it should be, I’m saying it is). Money is also status and authority, two things that are motivating. And necessary. How much credibility does someone have if they are on a lower payscale than you? Will you take their advice? I’ve had the lovely experience of a parent telling me that teachers are stupid because the cleaners at the local mine earned more than they did, so why listen to them? Perhaps in some utopian future where we have another way of trading, but for the moment money is more than the ability to buy things.

To conclude in hits of 140 characters –

  • Money is important to encourage people who haven’t experienced the intrinsic motivations yet.
  • There needs to be a range of intrinsic rewards to suit different tastes.
  • Money helps when people have no choice but to do the disagreeable bits.
  • Money is a surrogate for status and authority, so if you can think of another way to get society to acknowledge or award these I’m all ears.
  • Systems and departments need to work on the perception of fairness, including accountability and transparency.

And at 1100 words, that’s all for today. I think I’ve left plenty to talk about in the comments, please add yours.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott May 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Nice work, thanks. What I get out of this is that money is not the answer to everything but only a part. As much research shows, decisions based around quantitative analysis often fail to address the important qualitative influences. The process of teaching, like most interpersonal interactions, is all about the qualitative. Perception, motivation, acknowledgment, status, success, failure and many other contributing qualitative factors often lie in the eye of the beholder. Can we really so conveniently measure these statistically and put a monetary figure on them? BTW It’s good to have a little more space then 140 characters :)
Scott\’s last fabulous post …News Item 1

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Deborah May 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I’ve been thinking more and I think I can sum up a bit quicker – a lump of money doesn’t motivate people beyond the basics, although some of the things that money is a surrogate for can help.

However a lack of money or perceived inequity can demotivate people.

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