Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I've been missing in action on this blog for a couple of months because I've been in Portugal, learning a new language, figuring out how to live in less than convenient conditions (quite an enjoyable adventure actually), and generally absorbing Portuguese culture and the Portuguese approach to education.    And after two months I think I'm beginning to understand, and I have quite a lot to share.

For today, the focus must be on the protesting teachers.   The very centralized government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates (how about that name?!! for the philosophical among you) and Education Minister Maria de Lurdes Rodriques has put into place a new system for the evaluation of teachers and the teachers are in the streets  protesting it.   And the protests are getting widespread press coverage -- including regular TV spots.

Two weeks ago, 120,000 of Portugal's 140,000 teachers gathered in Lisboa to protest a plan in which the Ministry selects "titular teachers" within each building to evaluate other teachers (without additional compensation by the way).  Nobody's very happy with the plan nor with the way it was imposed.   That's both clear from the numbers above who protested that first Saturday and in line with the politics of this small nation that has embraced participatory democracy since overthrowing Salazar in the 70s.

The following Saturday about 70,000 teachers were back in Lisboa, but the Ministry continued to insist that the evaluation plan would be implemented as written.  There is one hitch.  The "titular teachers" are out protesting with the others, so it's not clear who's going to do the observing, etc.

On Monday, the Ministry hinted at "greater flexibility" in implementing the plan.   That might be because each day this week, teachers in one of the five political regions of Portugal are taking to the streets (as the TV just put it) for evening protests.   From the image I just saw on the morning news, lots of them showed up in Porto last night.

I have mixed feelings about this -- as do some of the teachers with whom I have talked.   An evaluation system seems reasonable.  I find myself wondering why there has never been one.   But in a system where school directors were teachers elected by their peers and where literacy has traditionally been very low, evaluating teachers was not high on the list of priorities.    But globalization and the European Union have changed all that.  Portugal, perhaps the most parochial of the EU nations, is experiencing all kinds of changes -- from much needed new roads to (perhaps not so needed) an educational system of surveillance.

But to see the teachers -- massive numbers of them -- in the streets demanding control of their own work and their own profession, ah, this is heartwarming!  Imagine if 75% of the teachers in the US gathered in their state capitals on one day (or 50 days in a row) to say that the testing regime that NCLB has bequeathed us is too punitive and too miseducative.   Imagine if those teachers offered an alternative that includes accountability and peer evaluation, heck even parental evaluation,  and took the case directly to the public as the teachers in Portugal have!!   

(Here are some hints for future posts:  The university professors are up in arms and so are the secondary students -- for different reasons.  They too are making noise and protesting.    Also, there is a network of educators in Portugal, part of the Modern Education Movement, that are implementing progressive educational models with success at all levels from infância to secundária.  And I might comment on the 16 years drinking age about which I chatted with several groups of 16 year olds -- or the 9th grade/14 years old compulsory school law that lets students leave school at 14 but not enter the work force until 15.   Lots of grist for the mill here.) 


Susan Laird said...

Barb, your report of teachers' and professors' activism is inspiring. This sounds like a tremendous experience, worthy of development into junior year abroad programs for undergraduate teacher education programs and also worthy of doctoral research.

AnaCristina said...

Portuguese Government doesn´t listen to Portuguese Teachers... They say to public opinion that teachers don´t want to work, don´t want to be evaluate but it's not true, all teacher want to be evaluate, want to see who's doing a good job or not... teachers don´t want to be evaluate based on students evaluation, on the amont of burocracy filled up, on the amont of "smiles" they give to parents... Portuguese Teachers want to do a serious job, not influenced by anyone but their own.

But Portuguese teachers are enough to take away the socialist party from the Government, they will lose the majority in the Parlament... and they will be flexible, soon they'll understand the real consequences of our actions!