I have tried to start this article in a thousand different ways. I’ve written and re-written the same sentence many many times, but this topic feels so close to me that it is hard to find the words that will do it justice. Having this in mind, you’ll have to forgive me. I don’t know how straight-forward I can be at this time, which usually would make me want to give someone else the chance to report these facts, but at the same time, what we’re talking about today is something that needs to be reported by those who are living it, and so, I chose to do it myself.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Unions work differently in Brazil than do in the United States. Here, unions are linked to the government and every year or so, depending on the profession, they must come to an agreement to what are the rules for that specific profession. In sectors like private education, where we have two type of workers, there are two unions: the private school teachers’ union and the school owners’ union. Every two years, these two unions have to come together and agree on a document that establishes general rules for employment at private schools– the convenção coletiva (from now on referred to as CC).
Up until last year, if these two groups didn’t come to an agreement on the terms in this document, the previous agreement was valid until the situation was solved, guaranteeing workers rights specific to teachers and minimizing competition between schools for the best teachers. However, ever since President Temer passed his work reformation, things have changed. Now, the CC is strictly valid for two years. This means that if an agreement isn’t reached within the time frame, there is no valid document until the TRT (Regional Work Court) comes to a decision, which leaves many things up in the air for teachers.
This year, São Paulo’s teachers and school owners did not come to an agreement. Working conditions have been in discussion since February, however not much progress was made. The Sieeesp (the private school owners’ union in the state of São Paulo) has requested change to 20 articles in the CC (which is made of 65 articles), arguing that they haven’t been able to properly provide to smaller schools, which take in students from lower classes. Among their wishes are changing paid vacation leave from 30 to 20 days a year, without agreement within schools as to when these should be taken, not guaranteeing full scholarships for teachers’ kids or grandkids (previously, every teacher had a right to full scholarship for up to two children), and the end of semester-based payment (previously, if a teacher was let-go mid-semester, the school had to pay him up until the end of the semester).
The Sinpro-SP (private school teachers’ union in the state of São Paulo) did not comply with these propositions, arguing the measures above and other not cited make for precarious work conditions. For example, the agreement between schools as to when teachers have their paid vacation leave is essential because of the fact that, due to low payments (R$2599,00 for a month with 40 hours of work per week), many teachers work in more than one school. This way, if one school decides to give their teachers their vacation leave in mid June and the other in late July, the teachers that work in both would never get a proper vacation. When it comes to full scholarships for teachers’ children, the truth is that due to teachers’ low payment and private schools’ high cost (it varies a lot, but the best schools can cost more than R$3000,00 per month), without a scholarship a teacher would most likely never be able to afford to have their kid in that school. As to semester-based payments, the idea is that in an industry where jobs only come up in the middle or beginning of the school year, this method of payment makes sure that teachers have income up until a new job comes up.
With the lack of a valid document, since the due date for a new CC has passed, teachers from private schools have called for paralisações, which essentially are mini one-day strikes. Last Wednesday, May 23rd, over 30 schools in the city of São Paulo had to cancel their classes. This Tuesday, May 28th, the number tripled, with over 90 closed schools. In both days, Sinpro-SP organized open classes in public spaces all across town throughout the morning, followed by assemblies at their head quarters at 2 p.m. and protests at the MASP (Museum of Arts of São Paulo, a common place for protesting) starting at 4 p.m..
On Tuesday, some schools (mine included) decided for a paralisação parcial, which means that the school was open in the morning and closed in the afternoon.
Overall, it has been a very tough week for both students and teachers.
Truth is, I had some idea of the toll these decisions were taking on my teachers. But I’m a privileged 17-year-old white woman who goes to an elite private school, and so, things aren’t exactly the same for me as they are for everyone else.
I don’t know how are your relationships with your teachers, but I (and I feel like many of my fellow classmates as well) have a very good one. My parents both work a lot and considering how much time I spend in school, I definitely spend more time of my daily life surrounded by my teachers than by my family. Due to this, my teachers have become not only people who I have the utmost respect and love for, but also people who I recognize as the most valuable figures in our society. I see how much time and effort they put in their classes. I see the sacrifices they do on a daily basis. My teachers also see me more than they see their sons and daughters. My teachers take time to make slides, to prepare their lessons, to correct my tests, to make 12 page-long worksheets, which they know every one will hate them for. My teachers wake up every day at 6 a.m. to see students who will most likely sleep in their classes. My teachers inspire me every day to be a better person, to be some who cares, who values dialogue. And they see my potential even when I don’t see it. When I want to give up and say I just don’t get it, they will try and explain it to me for 7000th time, in the hope that a little light will shine in my mind and I’ll finally get it. They don’t expect me to love their subjects, they just want to give me the tools I will need to achieve my goals, they want to give me something meaningful.
I don’t get along with every single one of them. We all have that teacher who we think is just rude or who keeps giving us these impossible things to do. But I know that at the end of the day, they are trying best, using their very own skills and personality to bring to me things I don’t know how to do, and being open to also learn from the things I can give them.
I go to a school that happens to care a lot about my teachers and value these relationships we’re building. My schools’ owners are very much against many of Sieeesp’s wishes and will support my teachers, keeping their rights as courtesy even in the event of TRT ruling in favor of Sieeesp. So in a way this doesn’t affect me or my teachers. But we can’t just fight for ourselves. Quality education is a right as it is clearly stated in the Declaration of Human Rights and in the Brazilian Constitution. Getting rid of teachers’ security is getting rid of people’s possibility to have an education like mine, which is guided in so many ways by the relationships we have with our teachers and the ones they have with our administration, who allows them to truly explore their passion in a way that is inviting to us.
Last Wednesday, many of my teachers were cursed and highly criticized for joining the movement. Teachers from similar schools have been fired for striking.
On Monday, my school decided to set aside the first two periods for high school students to hear teachers’ perspectives and how the school would deal with the situation. During this conversation, one of my tough, very guarded teachers held back his tears as he talked about how much he valued being a teacher in a school like mine, where exercising his right to protest didn’t compromise his children’s education and future, he talked about what it felt like to be called a “vagabond” and many worse things for fighting for his category’s rights. As he said that, I, and many others, cried along. It hurts. It hurts to see people you care so much about hurting like that. This is no way to continue. This is no way to treat our teachers. This is no way to treat those who create our futures.
Yesterday, instead of closing its doors, my school gave the teachers permission to use the campus to organize discussions regarding education in Brazil and the place we give to teachers in our society.
At some point, something came to my mind. If we keep devaluing teachers, taking their rights away from them, then who’s going to want to be a teacher? We all want good teachers for our children, but none of us are willing to become them. How are we going to build a future from this? How are we going to change the situation we’re in?
We need to talk about education.
Photo: Carta Capital