Drive, by Daniel Pink, examines modern research and philosophy surrounding motivation.  He argues that the old forms of motivation, based on meeting biological needs or working for a carrot or to avoid a stick, are not well suited to many modern jobs that are more complex, problem-solving, and creative.  ”Motivation 3.0,” as he calls it, relies on intrinsic motivators:  purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

One idea that stuck out to me in this book was the idea of baseline pay vs rewards beyond your salary.  From the glossary:  ”If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation or the anxiety of her circumstance, making motivation of any sort extremely difficult.”

Teaching seems to have lots of room for autonomy (sometimes too much, sometimes too little), mastery (helped along by good mentors, ideally), and purpose (this is probably what keeps most of us teaching–the effect we have on our students).  So how does teaching do in the baseline pay area?

Most teachers, and the general population, would say that teachers are underpaid for their services.  First year teaching salary matches an entry-level pay but you are expected to perform above-entry level work.  Education struggles with those famously high dropout rates for new teachers (50% in their first 5 years of teaching, according to the US Department of Education )–is this in part because the baseline pay is not enough to keep new teachers from focusing on the “unfairness” and “anxiety of {their} circumstances”?  I know that our charter school staff is paid significantly less than District teachers and yet most of us are motivated to work hard for the students anyway.  However, every time we are asked or told to do something extra, to push a little more, or to step up, we respond with resentment and frustration.  We are already under baseline-paid, and now we are supposed to want to do more?  It’s a hard sell and I think a good part of why we turn over 20% of our staff each year.

Is there a way to improve the baseline pay for teachers, with perhaps a more gradual pay increase to keep the overall salary schedule in budget?  Would districts/schools ultimately save money if they could attract and retain committed teachers rather than replace teachers constantly?  Would increased pay make a difference if underlying motivation problems aren’t addressed (i.e. imbalances in autonomy, mastery, purpose)?