Obama plans to deliver his speech on education reform today.  And the halls of public education are on fire with excitement.  Besides the estimated $128 billion allotted for education this year, one of Obama's strategies is to pay teachers based on performance.  This is a mixed-bag propostion.  Some believe teachers shouldn't be thrown a bone to teach.  They believe teaching should be instinctual and fueled by passion.  Some believe education among the youth is horrifying and a bone might just be the extra sustenance teachers need to kick back into action.

As a former teacher in the Oakland Public Schools I will say any incentive would help boost the morale of the over-worked, underpaid educator.  While teaching fourth graders in a detached classroom with third-tier books I was often afraid my students weren't learning anything.  I had students who were undiagnosed ADD, high on sugar, physcially abused, insubordinate, foul-mouthed, extremely smart, trilingual, illiterate, among other things.  I was dealing with a lot!


Except for the Teach for America folks in my school, who, in my opinion, we're doing their "urban" tenure in order to build up their resume, most teachers were stressed 24-7.  Some of them were descendents of people who were gifted beyond belief, but knew as black people the ceiling for progress was low and teaching was often considered the golden star career.  These people were teaching by tradition.  Some teachers just liked kids, but didn't care anything about their educated future.   Others were dedicated minds who loved seeing a child learn more than anything, but were trumped by having to commit their time and talent to monitoring behavior issues.  In fact, the head teacher of my school told me that I wouldn't do any instructing until the end of the year.  She said most of my year would be stepping into the role of parent, disciplinarian, nutritionist, confidant, and with a slim slot reserved for a spelling quiz.

Obama wants to churn out better-educated citizens through rewarding teachers.  And I second the motion.  In fact, I third and fourth the motion with sugar on top.  Look, paying incentives may not solve the complete problem, but it's a start.  If anything, it might weed out those teachers who are not in the game to excite children to learn.  And everyone knows these kids need some educational excitement.


Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.

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