Saturday, July 1, 2017

How to improve the teachers' status in Brazil

Yes, it is winter in the southern hemisphere. Yes, in São Paulo state we do not have school during the month of July.  I have been teaching at 4 different schools to make ends meet. Go figure? I am super duper overwhelmed. Funnier than this should sound, I am not tired due to the heavy work load. I am tired due to the lack of respect we teachers get from the students, and even worse, from the parents'. Teachers in Brazil are literally bullied by the parents. They think they own the school. They think teachers are their slaves. I am no slave. Sorry to disappoint my students' parents. I am aware that I do depend on my job to pay my bills. Nevertheless, no one is entitled to undermine my classes, my evaluations, and more,  my teaching abilities. I've been teaching since I was 14; I am 41 now. I guess I know what I am doing.

In the debate about how to improve educational standards, the role of teachers is paramount. In fact, in recent years it's become a truism that attracting good quality and well-qualified people into teaching is accepted as the essential prerequisite to raising educational standards. In Finland and Singapore, teachers are recruited from the most-qualified graduates, all with a second degree. In Brazil, teachers are those who lack other job opportunities and sometimes they don't seem to be keen on what they teach. It is true that our country does select teachers through good testing, whereas the selected ones are rather working in major companies. The problem lies on the fact the ones who are more qualified, end up teaching in college or universities.

One obvious way, developing countries have attracted the best and brightest into teaching primary and high schools due to paying them well. There is a demonstrable link between the level of teachers' salaries in a country and their educational track record. But the influence of teacher status – the social and cultural forces that determine how much we respect teachers – are harder to measure. Even though, I truly believe that the lack of respect is linked to the low salaries primary teachers get.

Teachers have the highest status in China and Greece and the lowest in Israel and Brazil. Most European countries including the UK and the US ranked halfway down the index. It is vital that we try to get the cleverest graduates in teaching positions. However, the best employers will not want to join a profession that is publicly denigrated or seen as a second-best option for graduates. Governments that are serious about attracting the best people into teaching must look seriously at the status of teachers, good acknowledgement, alongside other factors such as higher salaries.

At least half of all people polled supported performance related to the pay for teachers. In two thirds of the countries surveyed, teachers were most likely to be compared to social workers. Interestingly, in the US teachers were most often compared to librarians – perhaps because libraries are located next to schools in many middle American towns. These comparisons show that there is a lot of progress to be made before teachers are thought of in the same bracket as lawyers and doctors.

But the starkest differences were between Eastern countries and the West. Apart from the sole exception of Greece, teachers in China, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey and Singapore had a higher status than every country surveyed in Europe and the US. In European countries, between 10 and 25% of people tended to think that pupils respected teachers – compared to 75% in China. Fewer than 20% of Germans would encourage their child to become a teacher compared to nearly 50% of Chinese people. Out of all the countries surveyed, only Chinese people tended to compare teachers with doctors. Here, cultural issues seem to be at work. Teaching is treated with reverence in Asian societies – especially in China.

The findings also have an important message for governments in these times of austerity. There is no clear link to be found between teacher status and pupil outcomes. A large part of the reason for this is that occupational status is indistinguishable from remuneration in some countries, whereas it is entirely distinct from pay in other countries. The upshot of these findings is that governments cannot expect that improving the status of teachers will lead to better pupil outcomes in the absence of well-remunerated teachers.

Presenting teaching as a vocation whose rewards are to be had from social respect alone is doomed to fail. There is no free lunch for governments that want teachers to do more for less. However – this is not necessarily a straightforward demand to increase the pay of all existing teachers. What we want is for many of our most able graduates to enter the profession who will be able to get the best from pupils. We will only be able to attract them if teaching is seen as both a highly paid and high-status profession.

My own view is that in Brazil, we won't improve the status of teachers unless teaching is recognized as a dignifying profession. Lawyers and doctors have their own professional bodies such as the Law Society (OAB) and the General Medical Council. These organizations represent their professions but also regulate the conduct of their members. These bodies are therefore respected by the public in a way that unions are not, because they are seen as being on the side of the public. I would say NO to any UNION and we must create an organization that rises the role of teachers in our country.

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