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Why be a teacher?

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

A young teacher, on the outskirts of Lisbon, teaches in two schools and explanations in a study centre. On weekends she dresses like a princess and animates birthday parties. He says he loves to teach. His great inspiration was his teacher of the 1st cycle, from the "primary" school. And he says that with his eyes shining with comatose and joy.

Afia e pequeno lápis

My Dear Future:

I hope these lines will find you in good health, wishing me, here in the present, that in the future, planet Earth will be more balanced.

I write to you at the end of April 2022, the year the Ukrainian War began on 24 February.

I write to you to deal with a seemingly minor issue, in the face of the tragedy of war or the multiple dramas that cross the planet and humanity: in Portugal, there is a lack of teachers.

I feel this situation in my school as a coordinator of mathematics teachers. There is a lot of juggling that we have done to be able to provide mathematics teachers to all our students.

At RTP, a public radio and television service in Portugal, a debate was broadcast, in a program called "É or não é" always presented by Carlos Daniel, but this week was presented by Ana Lourenço.

In the debate were Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues, Emília Brederode dos Santos, Filinto Lima and Paulo Guinote.[i][ii][iii]

What reasons to be a teacher?

Starting the debate "What Future for Education?", Ana Lourenço asked the participants to present "a reason to be a teacher today in Portugal".

Interestingly, all participants eventually escaped the question, peruse themselves in other considerations.

The question was therefore, for each of us, the 150.127[iv] active teachers, or at least the many thousands who would be watching the debate. But the question isn't just for the teachers. It is a question that arises Portuguese or every politician.

The question continued to resonate in my mind and I couldn't resist coming to share with you, my dear Future, a sketch of the answer. It serves these answers for me to structure my own thinking and reflect on the reasons for being a teacher.

It's worth starting by asking what reasons to present themselves to anyone to be anything else.

What reasons to be a journalist? To be a doctor? To be a carpenter?

When we talk about reasons to be anything, we think, for example, of social status, this golden aura that seems to surround someone who exercises certain professions.

We can talk about the respect that a professional gives to the population.

We can talk about the remuneration that someone can get when practising any profession. We can also talk about the security and stability that a profession can offer to those who exercise it.

In common among these aspects, there is what could be called "satisfaction" Satisfaction comes from social status, respect, money or security.

It is discussed whether the teaching career is attractive or not. The data says it's quite simply not. Young people don't want to pursue this career. Who is a teacher, if you can get out and the burnout state is high, especially in older teachers.[v]

Why is that all?

Is it not noble and attractive to be responsible for the indispensable development of children and young people?

Isn't this personal development of students a guarantee of the future?

Did not the pandemic and the consequent confinement show the central importance of the school and teachers?

Do the Portuguese trust or respect teachers?

The study by GFK on the Global Teacher Prize initiative[vi] in 2018[vii] tells us that it is in teachers that the Portuguese trust the most, after firefighters and doctors. But in terms of respectability, they are in 5th place after the firefighters, doctors, military and police. It is trusted by teachers, but society is considered to respect other professions more.

Are teachers well paid?

In terms of pay, we know that teachers earn low salaries when compared to other graduates or when taking into account working hours that always exceed the 35 hours established as official working hours.

Is there security in the teaching profession?

Safety in the teaching profession is only achieved when they are part of the staff of a school. Until then they have a status of great precariousness. There are about 28,000 teachers, 27% of all teachers[viii], for whom each beginning of the school year is a real Russian roulette. It is many years before these teachers acquire the security of an effective. Sometimes only after 20 or more years of work.

Don't teachers progress in their careers?

Another issue that has repercussions in remuneration, is the way it progresses in the career. There's always the old reference to the military and the military hierarchy. It rises from rank by competence, by training and from there comes higher remuneration. And not everyone comes to general. Only the teaching career has very specific contours. Teachers in a school all play the same role and have the same functions: teaching and learning, regardless of accumulated experience. There are no real hierarchies.

The non-implementation relates to a policy of containment in the opening of vacancies in the boards of each school, in a process that seems to have as its objective, to save funds in the state budget each year. It is still legitimate because teachers are the largest staff in the civil service: more than 150.000, as many as doctors and nurses together. But a career with entraves in its evolution is basically an injustice for those who perform such an important function.

Finally, Portugal trusts teachers, but does not respect them much, pays them little and does not offer security to a good percentage of these professionals. However, it is considered by all an exhausting profession. 76% of respondents in the GFK study never hypothesized to be a teacher.[ix]

So, what then do you want to make this profession attractive or at least ensure that the needs of teachers are met?

Now, in fact, it's not about enticing people with benefits or privileges. Is it, on the contrary, to ask what conditions are necessary to perform the functions inherent in the function of being a teacher for children and young people in a country?

It is assumed that, if these conditions are given, the exercise of this profession becomes minimally enticing.

What conditions of safety, remuneration, scientific and didactic preparation? What dignity?

What future for education and under what conditions?

The answer can only be given if we dive to the bottom of the pound which is the meaning of education and what is the challenge of learning. What do students need to learn better? What characteristics should a teacher have to best contribute to good learning?

Every day I try to lie down at 10:00 at night to be able to sleep for a good eight hours of sleep. I get up at 6 o'clock, do my morning hygiene, and have a good breakfast and I will be wide awake and well-disposed to face, 8:15 a.m. a class of 25 children. On the weekend I need to rest and retemper force.

At my school, I have classmates who come up in the morning, fresh, well-disposed and full of energy. They are emotionally stable, go to the movies, and to the theatre, are attentive to what happens around them, they update themselves through frequent readings.

The question is what conditions can a teacher give him to reach this level? The answer is easy: career stability, safety and adequate remuneration, with a satisfactory progression.

But there's another aspect. The key issue is sometimes forgotten: so that students can learn properly it is necessary that the teacher has been, himself the target of an appropriate training and training process. This training does not come only from better performance with the students. Good training contributes to better results and greater satisfaction is felt by the teacher himself.

Suspicion #1 - Burnout and training

Therefore, the suspicion (suspicion no. 1) is launched that a good part of the frustration and disenchantment that teachers feel leads to burnout, advise the least preparation that teachers receive initially. Take a look at the history of teacher training in Portugal and see the weaknesses of this training received by the majority of active teachers. Burnout won't just come from tiredness. Perhaps it also comes from frustration, the impotence of not being able to correspond to the service that society requires to be provided, either by a deficit of teacher training or by lack of means existing in schools.

Suspicion #2 - Ability to form

Participants in the RTP debate eventually concluded that there will be installed capacity in Higher Education to train the teachers needed for the coming years. But it is necessary to ask whether there is adequate and sufficient know-how in Portugal to train quality teachers. It is suspected not (suspect #2).

In the debate were two researchers, people with a vast curriculum in higher education, and two teachers with experience of the daily life of schools. Interestingly, two men were called to speak of a profession in which 78% are women[x]. An interesting tension was in the air of this the beginning,and part, by Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues havebeen one of the most contested figures who were at the head of the Ministry of Education in this century. But maybe there are other reasons. There is actually a tension between the universe of universities and the world of schools. As if the university was poorly known by schools and schools, they had little chance of accessing the reflections and conclusions of the research work that is being produced.

Suspicion #3 - An abyssal moat

Every year I receive requests to respond to surveys in the framework of masters or doctoral theses in the field of education. Not once has our school received the conclusions of these studies in which it participated. We don't even know where to consult them. It is suspected, (suspect no. 3) therefore, of a gap between universities in the area of pedagogy and didactics.

Suspect #4 - The failure of continuing education

If we talk about initial training, we must talk about continuing education, where it is also suspect (suspect no. 4) that the system that is set up for continuous training of teachers still does not correspond to the needs of this profession.

But, my dear Future, it's not just about having more or fewer teachers. Rather, it is a question of having an education system capable of developing in children and young people all the human capacities that each one has in potential and of ensuring that every child and every young person appropriates the immense heritage of knowledge accumulated by humanity.

In this education system, teachers play a central role, but we can only offer "satisfaction" to a teacher or teacher if he or she is properly prepared to carry out their important mission.

5 challenges to face in education

More than analysis or reflections, we need to define a way to go to ensure that teachers fulfil their mission.

A new education minister has been in Portugal for just over a month.

(1) The first challenge is to tamper with the rules of short-term hiring of teachers, a task that has already begun to be carried out by the new minister.

There are teachers who apply for hours of a few hours and remain with remunerations so low that it is not even enough to accept the schedule, especially away from home, with fixed expenses of accommodation and travel. The solution at this time is for a teacher to teach in two schools, without being truly inserted in a school community. It's just that a teacher doesn't just teach. One or a teacher must be part of an extended team, be in school beyond classes, know the community where the school is located and perform various tasks. You can't just walk into class and run out to get to another school. Therefore, a school should be able to hire a teacher, even with a few hours and ensure that this teacher receives full remuneration because there is no lack of work in a school.

(2 ) Teachers need to gain stability by staying in a school with contracts of more than one year.

(3) For those who need to be away from home, there is a lack of accommodation that could be provided by local authorities. If some chambers invest in artistic residencies, why not in teaching residencies?

In relation to teacher training, there will be much to do. We have already spoken of the gap between universities and primary and secondary schools.

(4) Firstly, it is necessary to ensure that we have funding for research in the field of didactics and pedagogy and that we have research centres in these areas.

(5) Then it is necessary to understand if there is a good articulation between universities and schools. Those who are in schools need to be aware of what is again discovered in the area of pedagogy. When it comes to innovation, we talk about technology and information technology. But we must not forget that the human being continues to be formed by a brain that plays an important role in the learning process. And it is this brain, inserted into a child's body, that is at the centre of the whole learning process; it is that brain and this body that needs to undertake a developmental journey in various aspects. And any innovation must aim to find new and better ways to promote such ambitious learning.

Central challenge: everyone learns

(6) Because there is a challenge that has not yet been fully achieved: how to ensure that everyone can learn.

If we travelled 60 years ago we would find a school that focused on teaching a small percentage of students. Who learned, congratulations! If you didn't learn, we're sorry, you'd be condemned to professions reserved for the illiterate.

In the small percentage of students who learned, I managed to achieve this dehydrate, because it has at the outset, its own well-developed capacity. Now the challenge in Portugal is exactly to make sure that 99% of children and adolescents can learn and for this, they must develop their skills as much as possible. And that, my dear future, is a profound mystery.

Imagine that it is by decree-law that it is defined which antibiotics or which anti-inflammatory drugs should be prescribed for each medical situation. It obviously wouldn't make sense. It is technical and scientific training that enables the doctor to diagnose and decide what treatment should be followed. For, in education, it is the legislation that "prescribes" the action of teachers and the functioning of schools. Can you ask why?

Suspect #5 - Who doesn't trust teachers?

Second Helena Peralta[xi], the German secondary school program had 5 pages in 1974/75, but in 1983 it increased to 25 pages and in 2005 came in a large publication with 90 pages. You'll wonder why? It is suspected (suspect no. 5) that there is no confidence in teachers and, as such, it is necessary to share very well, in great detail, in programs approved by ministerial order, the work of teachers. It is also considered that it is by decree-law that teachers should be told how to act in schools.

The rebuilding of trust in teachers perhaps goes through other models of teacher training.

But between the published legislation, containing guidelines of guardianship, and the practice of teachers by schools in the country there is another old tension.

On the part of guardianship, there is a willingness to implement new ways of building the school, which arrive with the weight of legal and law enforcement. However, there is a lack of training that can awaken and enrich the gaze of teachers to the world that pulsates and advances, "like a coloured ball in the hands of a child".

Schools are isolated islands, where the intense demand on teachers exhausts them and takes time to think and feel the wind that blows from all quarters of society and the world. Here the articulation between universities and the schools, of basic and secondary, would be a solution.

Suspicion #6 - Universality of the school

Some new political parties accuse those who have been in power for more years in Portugal of not being able to promote the desired economic and social development of this country. International rankings are pointed out and the Baltic and other Eastern European countries are called up, whose economic indicators exceed those of Portugal. The typical measures of certain economic liberalism propose the solution. Latvia and the Czech Republic stand out. In fact, the secret of these and many other countries will perhaps not be liberalisation. We look closely at the fact that these countries have for many decades or even centuries been betting on education. It is the recollection that the Marquis of Pombal walked in shorts and Prussia had already decreed compulsory schooling in 1717. There is, therefore, the suspicion (suspicion no. 6) that the development of a territory goes through the education of its inhabitants.

Finally, my dear Future, I put the question of Ana Lourenço again: "a reason to be a teacher, today, in Portugal"

A young teacher, on the outskirts of Lisbon, teaches in two schools and explanations in a study centre. On weekends she dresses like a princess and animates birthday parties. He says he loves to teach. His great inspiration was his teacher of the 1st cycle, from the "primary" school. And he says that with his eyes shining with comatose and joy.

Suspect #7 - Perhaps a better world

Perhaps the answer to Ana Lourenço is in the moistened eyes of this young teacher.

The answer is, therefore, simple: the reason for being a teacher is the pleasure that is obtained by feeling that we contribute so that hundreds of students can grow and discover a world through the knowledge that we have accumulated. Through this acquired knowledge and these developed capabilities, it is suspected (suspicion no. 7) that the world may get a little better.

The 7 suspicions of education

We have 7 suspicions:

Suspect #1 - It is suspected that the frustration that teachers feel, and that makes this profession unattractive, comes from the initial training of teachers very fragile.

Suspect # 2 - It is suspected that this fragile formation comes from universities that do not have the know-how to properly train future teachers.

Suspicion # 3 – And this lack of know-how will not come, precisely because there is a gap between universities and schools.

Suspect no. 4 - There is also the suspicion that the system of continuous training of teachers is not the most appropriate.

Suspect no. 5 - It is suspected, however, that the result of this poor teacher training leads to a lack of confidence in teachers by guardianship.

Suspect no. 6 - This picture leads to the suspicion that without a solid education managed by teachers with good preparation, better development of any country is compromised, being necessary a truly universal school.

Suspect # 7 - It is finally suspected that good teachers, well prepared, emotionally safe and with fairly dignified salaries, would be the basis of good preparation for children and young people who will contribute to a better world.

School and Peace

During the 1990s, the school in Portugal put children thinking about peace and environmental issues. The fruits are there. This peace-raising work has been so well developed that it is with astonishment and surprise that we discover on the other side of Europe such a great contempt for this question.

In Moscow, my dear Future, right next to the old Cathedral of St Basil, someone does not seem to know what peace is and what its importance is.

It is a case to say, you went to another school, other than the many that exist on this side of Europe.

A friendly hug

Eduardo Rui Alves

(A happy teacher of 3000 students over 10,000 hours of classes in 30 years of profession)

[i] Former Minister of Education between 2005 and 2009. [ii] Researcher and author with extensive curriculum in Educational Sciences. [iii] President of the National Association of Directors of Groupings and Public Schools, 26/4/2022. [iv] on 18/02/2023 [v] [vi] The GfK Portugal is a multinational market research company, specializing in Portugal in the areas of Ad Hoc Studies and Retail Panels of Long-Term Consumer Goods. [vii] 26/4/2022. [viii] Ditto 4. [ix] Ditto page 22. [x] Ditem 4 [xi] Maria Helena Peralta holds a PhD in Educational Sciences, in the area of Curriculum Development and Evaluation and a Master's degree in German Literature. She is a retired assistant professor at the Institute of Education of the University of Lisbon. Developed and continues to develop research activities in Curriculum Development, Evaluation and Didactics of Foreign Languages.

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