Teaching: A World View
Five Stories: Teaching in Brazil
Transforming the World
Valeria Ozorio de Oliveira, 32, became a teacher through a program that extended her high school education by one year to add teacher training. She later picked up a university degree in English and Portuguese and one in teaching. She teaches kindergarten in a São Paulo “unified education center,” a combined public elementary school and community center, rare in Brazil, that has a swimming pool, library and cinema.
She says she and her husband “bit by bit” have been able to afford a car, a home and travel — “a comfortable life.” But, she adds, “I struggled years to be where I am today.”
Classrooms are crowded. Brazil needs more and better school facilities, she says, along with mental health support for teachers in trying times, plus quality toys, paint and paper for students. She has seen discouraged teachers switch careers and feels society doesn’t recognize the value of teachers. “I think that the salary of a teacher in Brazil is still far below what we should earn,” she says. Average starting teacher salary, adjusting for currency and local purchasing power, is a third less than the developed world average, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Upper secondary school teachers — typically the highest paid teachers in any country — earn $24,100 annually, well below the developed world average.
“Despite the difficulties we face, I believe that education can transform the world and people,” she says. “And without teachers, this will not be possible.”
Teachers inspired Juliana Seidner’s career. One in particular “had so much fun with us. Her courses were so alive and full of energy,” Seidner says. “It looked fun. I like kids.”
But when asked whether she would recommend teaching, Seidner, 36, a lifelong Rio de Janeiro resident and a teacher since she was 19, answers instantly. “No, to be honest, I wouldn’t,” she says. “I would say, run, run for your life.”
She received her teaching certificate just out of high school and, while teaching, later earned additional degrees for Portuguese and English. To make ends meet, she works at both a public and private school. Her public school classes have 25 to 30 students. In Brazil, according to the OECD, average class sizes are 23 in elementary school and 27 in lower secondary.
The World Bank says Brazil spends an above-average share of its government budget on education. But it’s playing catch-up. A UN report says the mean years of schooling for someone over 25 is just shy of eight.
Discipline “is a big issue here,” Seidner says. Long hours, discipline problems and low pay sometimes sap her motivation. But she reconsiders her earlier response about a teaching career. “I would say, listen, what are your expectations? Is the person really enthusiastic about becoming a teacher?” Seidner says. “If I had the chance, I wouldn’t choose this again. I still love it, but maybe I would try to go in a different direction.”