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  • Writer's pictureMegan Yoshino

Performance Penalty

What’s driving teachers from the profession? I think it can be explained in two words. Performance Penalty. Read on to find out what I mean.


purple background.  Performance Penalty title. Black box in the center with a red "x" made of red check marks

Performance punishment is the term used in this LinkedIn article, but I don’t think this is considered a punishment, but more of a penalty. Punishment usually means you did something wrong or didn’t follow the rules- but in this case, you did everything right. It’s a penalty one pays for being responsible, dependable, and always jumping through hoops. Just in this case, we tend to think of it as an honor that we are considered “creative, frugal, hard working” and always find ways to “make it work.”

This sounds like a Performance Penalty.

The author of that LinkedIn article, Pete Hillier, says that it’s usually high performers who are punished. But it’s a lot more than just high performers… most times it’s just good, dependable performers. I know that Hillier’s article was written in a sense in the typical corporate world. But in the world of education, teachers with excellent classroom management skills will get “difficult” kids dumped in their class because of that management skill. Just because we are good at getting through to difficult kids, doesn’t mean it’s not stressful to actually deal with them and work with them. What adults can forget is that the one student can actually make learning difficult for everyone around them. All it takes is one to change the dynamics of the entire class. Also, just because we are good at getting through the hard cases does that automatically mean we should just get more?

The Performance Penalty is also around the talk of money and budgets too. We hear stories year after year how teachers spend so much of their own money in their classrooms with tight budgets. But they still manage to pull it all off with the help of families, donors, community and their own contributions- holiday themes, creative projects, and support for their own classroom. We could all stop doing that, but in the end, it’s the kids who lose out.

Poor performing teachers tend to get a bad reputation so sometimes kids do everything in their power to get out of that class. In my first year, I had an overload of 185 students at one time because I was the newer one. I actually ran out of desks in my classroom and didn’t sign a new student into my class because of that. I told him he needed to wait and I wouldn’t sign his transfer papers just yet because he had no where to sit. Well, the student took it straight up to the VP who did sign it without talking to me to see how many kids I had in that class or asking why I didn't initially sign it. In that particular period that he signed into, I had another student who completed his whole year sitting on a low table. He was fine with that and it all worked out because I actually couldn't fit another desk in my room without blocking the 2 exits. In my third year, I had 40 students in one period and 39 students in another period. Just because the max capacity of the room sign says 45, doesn’t mean we can fit 45 desks: all the file cabinets full of old textbooks we cannot throw away, state file cabinets we cannot throw away but the kids picked the locks and handles off so they no longer work but it’s state property so it stays, all the bookshelves we cannot throw away plus my desk means that 45 students and all the stuff cannot fit into a classroom.

And all while this happens, there’s a teacher with 23 students in her class. She too can fit 45 students in her classroom. In addition, she gets paid more than I do simply based on the number of years she’s been teaching. Is this my performance penalty?

Another example is of a friend who had to switch grade levels or her role in the school every year for 3 years. The reason? To make room for a new teacher to teach her line. She was told that she’s an excellent teacher and that she’ll catch on quickly to teaching third grade or being a support teacher for all the grade level teachers. How about switching rooms for 3 years straight? No reasons given for that one actually. And what do we do as teachers? Just take it. Cry a little. And make the best of it.

And if you think this is just in the workplace, I will remind you of group work when you were in school. Were you the one who covered for everyone who didn’t do their part? Or were you the one who relied on others to get it done? Is this also a performance penalty but the “kid version”? Did you pay a price for being the good one, responsible one or the smart one? This type of behavior begins in elementary school.

This isn’t as simple as supporting a high performer- as the article suggests. Most times assistants are only for those at the top. How do you support a teacher under those kinds of conditions? Overloaded a classroom to max capacity, changing role or grade level from year to year so we can’t even get good at what we’re currently teaching, how do we support that? EA’s are there to support the kids. TA’s are only seniors with a free period and they aren’t actually teachers to help teach or manage a class.

The solution is also not work life boundaries because it will occur year after year and, in this case, as those students are socially promoted, it gets worse in the higher grade levels if those students haven’t mastered skills but are still passed along. How do you balance work-life for that when at any given time an elementary school teacher has maybe 23 students at one time teaching all subjects and a middle or high school teacher may have 150 students at one time in one or multiple subject areas?

Offering mental health reminders for work-life balance won't work either.

Similar pay and positions means everyone should be carrying an equal share but how do we make sure this is even equal? Especially when singular people all have strengths and weaknesses in the workplace, how can we ensure equitable classrooms, in a teaching sense? Not just equitable for kids, but for teachers too?

I definitely don’t have an answer for this but to stop the bleed, I think we have some deeper questions to face about what we see as quality, what we see as effective, and how we treat those who pull out the best in our next generation.

Performance punishment or performance penalty? What do you think? Have you been on the receiving end of a punishment or penalty in your work or even volunteer work? Care to share?

How do we do better?

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