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A neglected profession on the edge.

Posted by Nadiva Olivier on October 20, 2007

abacus.jpgOctober 15th is teacher’s day in Brazil. This professional is in a cage right now. Media ask them daily to promote a better education and criticize their performance. Parents demand them to be skilled. In a word: unfortunately, celebration is not the issue. 

Brazil authorities also demand them. Each State discusses their performance and making audits, laws and new regulations. Bush has made education a big issue in his 2000 campaign and launched No Child Left Behind program, making federal influence wider and exercising a certain power over local schools. Lula had the same strategy: launched the Education Development Plan as soon as he started his 2nd Government. Recently he established another action to accelerate education changes as he fears not to reach the goals established for 2011 in Brazilian education.  

Inspired by municipality elections in 2008, main cities are working hard in structural changes in the education system and also a teacher’s career reform. As a matter of fact, since the former President (Fernando H. Cardoso) launched a very solid long range plan for Education, we are facing many challenges and imbalances in this area, so teachers have been under a heavy stress in the last 10 or 15 years.

Let me go on with this quick painting on the teacher’s reality in Brazil nowadays, trying to make it with clarity and simplicity. Teachers have law salaries, this is the first problem. Although all of us have a special teacher in our heart, society does not recognize his/her monetary value. Most teachers are women what make things even difficult. Women traditionally get lower payments in many countries.

Public school in Brazil is something special: no infrastructure, no sufficient teachers, and no financial resources for libraries, classroom, sports facilities and so on. Even if we are talking about private school, however, the portrait should not bear a slight trace of the pomposity often exuding from other "important" professions like health doctors, engineers or scientists. Even artists are in a better position. This profession is needlessly neglected and undervalued and someone ought to do something about it. 

Result of this scenario: the teacher does not care anymore for the profession he/she has chosen. In the State of Sao Paulo, for instance, you have such a daily absence that shows this situation very clear. Almost 30 thousand of 230 thousand teachers in the state system of education of Sao Paulo miss to school every day, according to official figures of 2006. The number means a daily absence of 12.8%. Teachers count with 19 legal provisions that allow them to leave with no discount in salary, including medical license, license by "significant reason" (six per year in this case), etc. Under such mechanism, the teacher may, in the limit, miss 100 of 200 school days; provided they submit medical certificates and that the absences are not on consecutive days.

Another issue is the debate on what this profession "made of". Leftist intellectuals/journalists and so on are fighting for a teacher that has to abandon his previous "idealization of this profession" or the "romantic concept of vocation" and think as an "education worker", acting to develop consciousness among poor or excluded people. Thesis, articles and speeches of masters degrees' students dissect this issue in every angle, with the contribution of theories from Marx, Althusser, Contreras, Gramsci, Gadotti and others, forming a solid reference for their position. Romantic idealistic teachers realize they are out of date and have to deal with another anxiety: "how can I fit this new role?”

The solution will not come from Government or otherwise. It has to start with each one of us, persons concerned with children's and society's future. We should begin a serious debriefing of what is going on in education with our children and with its most important agent: the teacher.

Do it, even if it is just for curiosity in the beginning. Ask teachers on what is happening in their lives, how do they feel about the professional choice they made, how do they pay their bills with so law wages, which dreams they had to abandon as they cannot have them accomplished, what do they think about children nowadays, how do they evaluate parents role in education, what does the teacher think on the romantic or the leftist approach of the profession and so on.

From curiosity we certainly will go to fear, looking the poor condition these persons have to live, to work and to fulfill all their responsibilities with our children, how depressed many of them are, how some of them are making an heroic effort to go on despite all these challenges and so on. The scenario is so desperate that, in the end, probably we would come to transcendence and reach a solution. Present situation is not invigorating and cannot go on. 

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