The governor's education initiative to provide bonuses to the top 20 per cent of teachers is not a good plan for the health of a school district. It simplifies the complexity of the art and science of teaching and diminishes collegiality and cooperation that are the twin pillars of the teaching profession. As every classroom includes a variety of student sills and behaviors and every teacher brings to this crackle of human life a unique perspective, the top 20 percent "contest" seems utterly meaningless and divisive.
If a student scores well on a high school math test and a science teacher's class wins a competition, are those teachers more important than elementary art and music teachers who open up worlds of color and song to children whose hearts blossom for a lifetime? Is a history teacher discussing American government more necessary than an English teacher impressing students with a lesson for life from Shakespeare, "Those friends thou has, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel." Is it the computer teacher who discusses software and processing or the second grade teacher who still believes the "hardware" of cursive writing can still lead to beautiful black words on a white page?
In practice, we need all of the above and more for our children to grow and perform. Teachers try their best to be the culture carriers and miracle workers for entire generations. Those of us involved in the profession, however, know that student achievement is overlaid with factors over which we have little control. Student populations suffer from abuse, benign or malignant family neglect, poverty, drugs, and an increasing fondness in our society for believing in the efficacy of ignorance and stupidity. As teachers attempt to make a difference in children's lives by dealing with these and countless other perils and promises, governmental entities could best assist them by providing sufficient funding for school programs that benefit all students, providing a comprehensive package of salary and benefits for all teachers, and providing a foundation for teacher cooperation and collegiality that will enhance and enrich any curricular area.
Finally, in the greatest of legislative ironies, the governor proposes bonuses while his Republican party proposes legislation that will strip away union organization and collective bargaining from teachers. Already down on the lowest salary rung in the nation, South Dakota teachers are also being administered a few royal whacks. Bad for teacher morale, bad for students, bad for South Dakota. Just say no!