Heat and duty

8th January 1999 at 00:00

Worlds apart but with a common chosen profession, student teachers from the United States, Brazil, France and Russia talk about their training, the challenges they face and what the future holds

A class of 14-year-olds was fidgeting in the sultry heat, rearing for the bell that would herald their Christmas holidays on the beaches. Hugo Esliva's last test as a student teacher was to keep his pupils' attention on landmark events in the American Civil War and away from the imminent summer break while being assessed by the class's usual history teacher and an outside examiner, who sat at the back of the classroom.

Like 96 other trainee teachers taken on yearly by the Colegio de Aplicacao (The Applied School), one of Rio de Janeiro's best state schools, Hugo, 22, has had to give three unassisted lessons after spending a year accompanying the lessons of a mentor teacher.

Student teachers at the University of Rio de Janeiro are required to do a one-year work experience stint at a school in parallel with the five-year degree course in a chosen subject in order to qualify for a secondary school teacher's certificate. Their performances during the end-of-year lessons are their last test.

"We watch and assimilate different teaching methods and then have to show examples of how we can go it alone," says Hugo. "We are eased into it by being able to accompany another teacher for a year. At the end of it all we have to show whether we can do it or not."

Anderson Luis Jose da Silva, 23, another trainee teacher, says: "We accompany our mentor teacher to get to know how the class interacts and how pupils respond to different teaching methods and then present a package incorporating the ideas and ways which worked best."

The Applied School, geared for seven to 19-year-olds, in the leafy district of Lagoa, was founded 50 years ago as a pilot project for on-the-job teacher training courses. Its success has made it a model of Brazil's teacher training methods and it produces some of the best teachers in a country marked by high illiteracy levels and mostly inadequate teacher training.

Moacyr Barretto, the director of the school, explains: "We are trying to reinstate respect and quality in a profession that is being shrugged off more and more.

"Education is not valued as a priority by the government and the prospect of embarrassingly low salaries for teachers has turned students to other fields." A shortage of mathematics, chemistry and geography teachers is a sign that better paying industry is luring away candidates, he says.

"Despite inflation, teachers have not had a salary adjustment for four years and the goverment's continual cut in the education budget proves that it does not care to improve the failing system."

A teacher with university qualifications (which in most cases means five years of higher education) on a 40-hour week contract earns about pound;400 a month, and has to take on night classes to supplement their income.

This means that teachers have very little time to acquire new skills to update teaching methods, such as computing skills.

Students who opt for a teaching career do so, says Senor Barretto, "for love of the profession and the knowledge that there are always vacancies".

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