Why I Turned Down a $5,000 Bonus: The Success of His Students Was the Work of Many Hands So His Conscience Wouldn't Let Him Accept Extra Money

By Hahn, Francis | Phi Delta Kappan, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Why I Turned Down a $5,000 Bonus: The Success of His Students Was the Work of Many Hands So His Conscience Wouldn't Let Him Accept Extra Money


Hahn, Francis, Phi Delta Kappan


As I walked into the office on my way to take part in collective bargaining, the HR director pulled me aside: "We have a contract for you to sign. Then we can get you your check!" she said.

"Check for what?" I asked.

"It says here you've been approved for a $5,000 AP stipend." She handed me a letter from the New Mexico Public Education Department. "All we need is for you to sign the contract so we can get you the check." She shrugged at my bewilderment and said, "Pennies from heaven!"

For a moment, dollar bills danced before my eyes. I thought of my wife, who jokes that she never has money for shoes.

And yet ... something felt off. I asked if I could make some calls.

"OK," she said. "But we need this paperwork finalized ASAP."

What I learned confirmed my doubts. The bonus was part of Gov. Susana Martinez's education reform initiative. It pays incentives to up to 300 AP teachers who increase the number of students who pass AP tests. Merit pay. The state was using student test scores to award me a stipend.

Data from 2012 qualified me to receive the bonus because the percentage of students in my AP literature class who earned a score of 3 or above increased from the prior year. My 2012 AP bunch had been an exceptional group. It was a good year for me as well. I was on top of things, organized, enthusiastic.

However, I had to acknowledge one fact: I was not the only person who contributed to their success. They had excellent junior, sophomore, and freshman English teachers. Before that, their middle school teachers and elementary school teachers laid the foundation.

Their parents taught them to value education and diligence, and modeled the literate dinner table talk that leads to deep appreciation of literature.

I'd be remiss to omit the counselors, custodians, coaches, nurses, librarians, secretaries, cooks, security guards, educational assistants, and, yes, even administrators, all of whom buttressed their success in some way.

And, of course, the students themselves, in spite of my questionable competence, managed to learn a few things.

My point is obvious: Education is collaborative and incremental. It requires vertical alignment, coordination, good leadership--and students who care to reciprocate. …

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