Why a Sucker Pay Plan Made Me Hate Teaching

RJ Morris Compensation/Cash Money, Policies, Recruiting, Retention, RJ Morris

I was a sorta teacher for a few years. While I did my masters, I taught some composition and literature courses. If you have any sort of ego whatsoever (and what HR blogger doesn’t?), the teaching part of being an educator is great. Stand up in front of the room, people listen to you and you can assign and judge people’s work. I loved facilitating debates and interacting with students.

The challenge was that I hated everything else. Meetings, committees, completing forms in triplicate, living and dying by budgets set 2 years in advance and driving change at glacier pace. Man, I died a little on the inside every time I went to a department meeting.

pay rateThe killer, however, was the pay philosophy. Check out the salary schedule to the right. This is a pretty standard sample public school teacher pay schedule. Take years of service, compare it to highest degree achieved and that’s the number. No matter how hard I worked, my pay raise was already determined.

What hurt me the most was that the goober in the office next to me—the lady who worked 1/10 what I did—her pay raise was already scheduled, too. No matter what. The value of my contribution to the school was already pre-determined, completely regardless of performance. The school determined my value before I did my job.

Bizarre. I got out as fast as I could.

Why is this a sucker play? Many reasons. Here’s 4:

1. Mission over dollars—forever. Schools attract people who love the mission. They are teachers because it’s a calling. Really hard to maintain this momentum over a 30-year career.

2. Regression to the mean. Top performers will drop performance as they see low performers progress at the same level. This is the heart of equity theory in action.

3. Goodbye, discretionary effort. If I want to over-achieve and work 10x as hard or 10x as smart as Tom next door, the organization will value us the same.

4. Risk takers need not apply. A pay

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philosophy that everyone is equal and their contributions are equal will be poison to some innovative risk takers who would consider the calling.

It’s not just teaching, either. I would argue that a lot of companies who say they pay to incentivize follow an almost informal version of this—creating strict compensation bands and giving everyone basically the same raise, based on a lack of desire to have tough conversations.

“Hey Sally, you knocked the cover off the ball this year and made a great impact. Here’s 2.8%.”

“Hey Tommy, you had an average year with some minor performance issues throughout the second half. Here’s 2.8%.”

None of this, of course, is just about cash money. Many great teachers do it because it is a true calling in life, and they know the pay plan when they sign up. I think that gets you in the door, but the educational institution has some responsibility to help reward top performers over the course of their career. If not, everyone ends up the same. Average.

RJ Morris
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.