As I look back on my career, I say thank goodness merit pay was never in place while I was in the classroom. I think about all the kids I would never have helped and wonder where some of them would be now without that extra care.
I've always felt like an outsider in every phase of my life and because of this, I've always looked to associate myself with people like myself. Whenever I saw a kid in need, a kid who seemed lost and unable to fit with anyone else, I befriended that kid and did my darnedest to get that kid through. The students I chose were never in my classes. (This doesn't mean I didn't help my own students as well.) Not only did I work with these kids on their math skills, I helped them with guidance issues and even got to know parents. I know I made a difference when I see where many of them are today.
I never would have gotten a penny of merit pay for my efforts. I never even thought about getting anything for them either, except for the satisfaction of seeing a young person move on with his/her life. I was never an administration favorite (or even a liked person) as I have a tendency to say what I think, even if it is not politically correct. It took 30 years for a principal to be outsmarted so the kids could give me this award which had nothing to do with money.
My friend, NYC Ed as well as countless other teachers have done the same over the years. I worked with ATRs who were never noticed (unless of course something was amiss) who did more for some of these kids than anyone ever did. Another ATR I know agreed to teach a Saturday lab when none of the regular teachers wanted to work. That ATR was rewarded with an excess letter at the end of the semester.
Merit pay is the worst idea anyone could ever come up with. Not only will it not make people work any better, it will make them do less. I know, the orphans I helped along the way would not have gotten that help if I watched others being rewarded for my efforts.
I don't have an answer to fixing education. Smaller classes would help. More relevant curriculum's would be effective too. And, not expecting everyone to be able to attend Harvard would be a step in the right direction. The only thing I do know is that merit pay is something that will never work.