Teaching: A World View
Five Stories: Teaching in Brazil
The country’s teacher corps is young and must work with big classes and widely varying work conditions depending on the part of the country.
Veteran teacher Lucimar Resende Rodrigues teaches English two days a week to sixth- through ninth-graders at a 250-student public school in Caeté, a small town about 300 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. The rest of the week she teaches children and adults at a private school that teaches English. Only 40% of Brazil’s teachers have full-time jobs. Many cobble a living by moonlighting at multiple schools or taking other jobs.
Rodrigues began teaching at 18 at the same private school where she learned English and where she has been teaching now for 28 years. She didn’t go to college until she was 28 to get her degree in “Letters” — Portuguese and English. “I’m not a teacher because I took language arts,” Rodrigues says. “I took language arts because I’m a teacher.”
Rodrigues began working at the public school this year to add to her retirement savings. “I also need some challenge in life. I know I’m capable of more,” she says. Portuguese, she says, has two verbs for what teachers do — one is akin to “giving” a lecture; the other is teaching so that students learn, she says. “Some teachers present a subject. They make students copy, but they don’t really teach. I believe teachers are born teachers,” Rodrigues says.
“I am able to support myself on my salary,” she says. “I can take vacations abroad once a year, afford a popular car, a good wardrobe. I can sometimes go to expensive restaurants and to good shows.”
Young Teachers, Unequal Society
Pedro Paulo Coelho’s path to teaching began as a teenager while working at a bank. Concerned about income inequality, he volunteered to help low-income kids prepare for the nation’s high-stakes university admission exams. “I loved it,” he says.
Coelho went into teaching. Brazil’s teachers are young. Only 20% of them are 50 or older; the developed world average is 35%. Coincidentally, four teachers we interviewed started as Coelho did — essentially straight out of high school, with university degrees earned later. Coelho earned his economics degree in 2013 and a geography degree in 2015. Coelho started teaching at 22; now, at 29, he teaches mostly geography at a 2,500-student, São Paulo private middle and high school. As is common in Brazil, the school runs in shifts, and classes are large — 35 to 40 students. He says talks with students about mutual respect enable the large classes to function.
He clearly enjoys working with youth. He’s excited that the school let him develop elective courses, a rarity in Brazil. By combining their salaries, he and his wife, a university professor, are able to raise their daughter in a good São Paulo neighborhood and travel. “This is not the reality of the other teachers in Brazil,” he says. “We live in a country very, very unequal.”