Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Performance pay for teachers--- yet another sideshow?

Performance pay---- Here we go again!

Here we go again. Every so often the Government (usually a National Party one) trots out the old ‘performance pay option.’  As with all ‘announcements of late, the real reason for any philosophical discussion emanating from the above source, is almost certainly driven by Treasury or National Party desire to cut spending. We are seeing it in many places at the moment. Hell--- they have just cut seven military bands to save a measly two million dollars.
We have seen health cuts, defence cuts, police reorganization (using civilians to save money) and attempted cuts to our Diplomatic Service--- the list goes on. What is interesting is the ‘stick your big toe in the water,’ strategy and if it gets burnt pull it out until the water is lukewarm. I don’t know how far they are in their planning for the latest ‘Educational Sector’ proposals.
Let’s take a closer look at the idea of performance pay. If it looks like a minefield then it probably is.  I would hate to be a principal, trying to decide who to award this extra money or who to punish by not awarding it. There are so many hooks, not just within schools, but between schools.
One would think that finding a yardstick to measure teacher performance will be a trial in itself. Who is going to say that this teacher deserves an extra incentive and on what basis it is awarded? Do we look at Asttle scores at the beginning of a school year and then give those teachers in English a reward for moving the students up a level or two? Do we take raw scores in other subjects and apply some sort of measuring device or do we reward the teacher who has gained the most NCEA credits in their classes? Too bad if you work in a school which is heavily ‘banded’ and you are the unfortunate teacher at the bottom end.
 I am trying not to be cynical here. There are many reasons why students don’t achieve just as there are for those who show an improvement throughout the year. Yes, much of that success can be achieved through good teaching, but that is not the whole picture.
Schools can and do make a difference in students’ lives. The home is also a critical factor. Socio-economic factors play a huge role in how much a student will achieve. If there is a strong Cultural Capital influence in a family, then students have a head start. If the role models for success are present in a family, then it is easy to make the link between success and not failing.
Our Government leaders will talk about examples of students who have achieved at high levels, despite their backgrounds or school. No doubt Paula Bennet will use her own example, but she is on shaky ground given that the very tool that helped her has been stripped away in previous cuts.
The debate about what makes an effective teacher has some commonality. Factors like personality, teacher training, good support structures, and on-going professional development are just a few. Put the same teacher in different schools and there can be a difference in outcomes.
Our teacher unions have possibly not done enough to inform rational debate about performance pay. They are too busy trying to retain the conditions they have fought for over the last several decades. Calls for performance pay are a smokescreen. I suspect that the Government/Treasury is employing the same tactics that they have used to sneak in cuts that they were going to make anyway. We need to be careful that other changes to our conditions aren’t slipped through while our eyes are turned elsewhere. Sounds a bit like the eye in the tower in ‘Lord of the Rings’ doesn’t it? While we are fighting this issue, perhaps they will quietly bring back real ‘bulk funding.’
Finally--- is there a similarity between the struggle that Ports of Auckland workers are going through and the debate about performance pay? I shall let you think about that.

The bach---it's gone! (Coastal Yarn's begining)

I feel really strange; a combination of sadness, nostalgia and a sense of gratitude. The bach has gone. After being in my cousin’s family for more than 40 years, it has finally been sold. I may get a chance to see it and stay once more before the actual handover, but that depends on availability. I won’t be the only one wanting to say goodbye.
The bach has been an inspiration for me. The bach is where Coastal yarns began, my first published book. I remember sitting there one cold morning while my sister made breakfast and looked out the window to Kapiti Island. It loomed mysteriously in the distance, beckoning me in a way I cannot describe.
I was aware of some of its history and later found out a connection between the island and my cousin.  At the time of that visit, I was working on another book and had stayed at then bach as it was a convenient and cheap place to stay so that I could commute to Wellington to see my editor for another book---a work still in progress. Whilst the breakfast was being prepared, I began writing. I had no title and no real idea. It flowed. I put myself in the position of a man staying at the bach. He owned it with his wife and had been visiting the bach for many years and gradually his wife stopped accompanying him.  You can read the rest and the other stories by contacting me direct. (neilcolemanauthor@gamil.com)
I only wrote about three pages that morning and later in the day I visited my editor. I mentioned that I had started to write a short story and she asked to see it. She was silent while I sipped form very long white rum, lime and soda, watching the planes land at the Wellington Airport. We were in here sun room high up in the hills near the airport.
She was impressed and encouraged me to continue. A few days later I had completed the first story, ‘Connected,’ and had come up with the idea of a compilation of short stories, based around the NZ Coastline. Thus, ‘Coastal Yarns was born. I will be re-launching it with a few additions and I will publish it myself this time. That’s another story.
It feels like I am avoiding talking more about the bach. There is a sense of pain, knowing that I won’t be able to spend time there again. I understand the circumstances for its sale, but that doesn’t make it easier. I am not sure if my wonderfully generous cousin (she never charged me anything like what she could have charged) will ever read this blog, but if she does, I would want to convey my sincere thanks for the opportunity she gave me--- staying there; sometimes alone and at others with my sister.
The bach was and always will be an inspiration to me. It is part of my psyche. It is my special place. I would not change much if it was mine. It is just so perfect as it is. It represents part of Kiwiana, unchanging and timeless. It is the way we imagine NZ the way it used to be. It makes you forget the busy highway leading into Wellington just over the rise. The magnificent hills to the East, frame the tiny settlement that has long been an escape on the Kapiti Coast for Wellingtonians and increasingly for other parts of NZ.
I hope its residents resist the urge to carve up the sections that many baches occupy--- but the inevitable march of ‘progress’ began years ago. The beach houses that resemble mansions are slowly taking over.
For me, the bach will always be there. Even if they take it away, or mote likely bring it to the ground--- it will still be there in my mind---- forever.

Thanks for Miranda, Mother England!

FIRST IT WAS Little Britain, and I am forever grateful for that. (We have all the DVD’s). Then it was Katherine Tate (I ain’t bovered!). OK, there are so many great Brit comedies and it’s hard to say which would be my favourite. I never get sick of seeing reruns. If I need a laugh, I hit the UK TV channel, and inevitably there will one of my crazy British shows on.
Lately, I am again drafted to yet new heights of enjoyment. There is a new ‘girl on the block.’ Who could possibly come even near to the afore mentioned ‘treasures?’ Well there is someone----MIRNADA!
She’s nuts, she’s funny, she’s---- well she’s like someone who represents a bit of us all. Miranda lets us look at ourselves. She exemplifies our fears, our dreams and says what we all think. If that means being non-PC, then she’s a star. I love the way she lets us in to her inner thoughts--- draws us in with those naughty eyes and makes us feel that yes--- It’s fine to be scared, shy and enjoy the little things, even the stupid aspects of our lives. She normalizes being a little mad, sad and then to take something that is way out of our comfort zone and make it alright.
She makes us feel OK about ourselves, be it physical, emotional or any other ‘al.’ She makes fun of the relationships within families, but expresses it in a way that tells us that--- many of us share the experiences she portrays in her shows; she makes it all OK---- just laugh, cry or scream.
Miranda takes the everyday and turns it into a drama; a drama that could easily replicate the events and relationships in our lives. The way she ‘talks’ to the camera is oh so Shakespearean. Her style would not be strange to an audience in the Globe Theatre, all those many years ago, albeit with a more archaic language. Perhaps her subject matter would also ring true.
I know that Miranda will never read this, but my overwhelming wish would be for her to come to New Zealand and share her wonderful wit with us.
What a dream---- I would be in the front row, taking in those mischievous eyes and laughing till I hurt. It’s been a while since that happened---- live.