«I think it's time to stop playing with education»

The 27th episode of Isto Não é Pera Doce! is a first-person account of the challenges facing education, from the perspective of the different agents who perceive it: teachers, headmasters, students, parents, the Ministry of Education and society itself. Guided by the voice of our guest, this is a programme that reflects the history of those who have experienced and left the role of teacher in Portugal. There are still doubts about returning.

 «I think it's time to stop playing with education»
Fígura de ondas técnologicas azul

Our guest is Carmo Miranda Machado, a Portuguese teacher. She worked for 30 years at the D. Dinis Secondary School in the east of Portugal. Dinis Secondary School, east of Lisbon, with pupils from 7th to 12th grade. Today she teaches in Maputo. She has a Master's degree in Education from the Portuguese Catholic University and a degree in English-Portuguese Studies from the New University of Lisbon, and has published several books and is a columnist. 

The last school year was perhaps the most remarkable in the career of our guest, who says that in 34 years of teaching, she had never seen such problems with indiscipline. It was the click that made her take a new direction in her life. Read her testimony:

Teacher, were you so fed up that you decided to go to Africa? 

The indiscipline she experienced during the last school year was the trigger for the realisation of a dream that had been on the back burner: the experience of teaching Portuguese in a country of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP). It was time to change the course of her professional career, overcome by exhaustion, tiredness and little patience to continue enduring what was put on the table

What is certain is that last term I had to deal with problems of indiscipline the likes of which I had never seen in 34 years of teaching. And they were such serious problems of indiscipline that I stopped sleeping. [...] And I thought it was time, because there are moments in life, in our lives, when we realise that if we continue down this road for much longer, it's not going to lead us anywhere good. And I realised it was time to change course.

A year marked by a sense of professional humiliation and health consequences. A year in which there was little support and the challenge was too great to continue.

I felt I had the support of some people, but it wasn't the support it should have been. I'm not going to blame the management directly, because I don't think the management is used to punishing indiscipline when it happens, maybe like other management. It has to do with a lot of regulations, the student statute, I don't know. What is certain is that in problem schools, or at least in some schools, we don't have a strong hand on indiscipline. And indiscipline must be punished. And, in my view, it has to be punished almost immediately to have an effect. Not one month, two months, three months later.

What justifies us not guaranteeing the basic principles so that things can work well?

The formation of the student as a citizen is a fundamental aspect, according to teacher Carmo. Competition between students should be based on good education and not on grades.

I prefer a student who gets a 3 and is a good person to a student who gets a 5 and doesn't have good principles, good values.

A teacher's mission goes beyond sharing knowledge and validating learning. Teachers share a mission that is unfortunately threatened by the education system. It is threatened by the formatting of the system.. 

I think teachers are generally formatted. We are formatted. We live the school, the teaching, the teachers, the system is a matrix. And so are the pupils. And the teacher or the headmaster or the school that tries to escape this formatting, this matrix, will always be singled out as the one who doesn't do it by the book, according to the system.

The crisis, as he calls it, begins with the programmes and the fact that the school doesn't develop what is important for life. A school that is disconnected from life, where students only know what they need to know to pass an exam, but don't know the essentials for life. It's a rigid format where there's no room for change. There is a need for educational reform. 

I think this is because there hasn't been any real educational reform in Portugal, in the sense of having the courage to adapt programmes and change practices. There isn't enough courage. There are small chapels, many small chapels.

This is an educational reform that ideally involves everyone in the school community, right down to the parents themselves. For Carmo, it doesn't make sense for parents to send their children to a tutor at an early age. It is a scenario that she believes will have to happen because of the excessive workload that parents also have to cope with.

I think that when parents send their children to a tutor at such an early age, what often happens, I think, is that the parents use the tutor as someone who's going to help the children do their homework. Not so much to explain, but to help them do their homework. It's one more weight off their shoulders, one more weight that they don't have [...]. Now that they're starting very early, there's no doubt about it.

But the board is also part of the equation. Carmo Machado, an advocate of democratic election to the post, believes that the position of director is currently seen as a political one, and it shouldn't be.

The school is not a business, the school, as I see it, is not a profit-making institution. It's an institution to make people more capable, to transmit culture, and I think, unfortunately, that school is one of the places where there is the least culture at the moment.

The teacher who loves what he does is tired.

The teachers are going through a period of protest, of strikes. They are fighting. Carmo believes it's time to stop playing games with education, selling ideas and projects that are just more of the same. We need to be intellectually honest about what is important, because there are fantastic teachers in schools. That's why teachers who love what they do are tired. But is the teachers' struggle understood by society?

I think that informed people, informed people, understand the struggle. But there aren't many informed people. We're still a country that loves football and walks to Fatima. I have nothing against that. I'd just like to say that in the old lady's time, Fatima, fado and football were the 3 F's, and that society, which seems to have evolved a lot, probably hasn't evolved that much. Only in this respect. So, those of you listening to us, don't misunderstand me.

Teachers need to be motivated, because without motivated workers there is no productivity.

I was able to feel like teaching again, which was something I had lost there.

For Carmo, her motivation is reflected in her decision to move to Portugal to teach. She still has doubts about returning to Portugal, which she wants to do, but she doesn't know if she will be able to return to the system as it exists.

I woke up and wanted to go to school again. I go to school early, which wasn't the case there. I stay at school after class, which in Portugal I'd call "pernas para que te quero", because it wasn't a walk in the park for me or anyone else. So it's a very positive balance. The problem now is that I don't want to stay here, I don't want to stay here forever, because then I lose my roots with Portugal. The problem now is that when I go back, I don't know if I can go back to the system as it is.

Watch the full episode on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or Google Podcasts.


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