My day starts early in Porto Alegre, the capital of the southernmost state of Brazil. Here, the Brazilian climate provides very hot summers, as well as cold and humid winters. I get up at 5.45am, walk my dog and eat breakfast before leaving to get to work in time for lessons to start at 7.30am.
I teach biology at two schools, Pastor Dohms College, a private all-through school, where I spend most of my week, and Anglo Vestibulares, a private school that prepares students who have finished high school for university entrance exams. My students at Pastor Dohms take lessons from 7.30am to 1.20pm, Monday to Friday, with an afternoon shift of three lessons between 2.20pm and 5.25pm, one day a week. In a typical week, I teach 23 classes at Pastor Dohms and a further six classes at Anglo Vestibulares.
I started teaching 14 years ago, and have worked at both elementary schools and high schools. In Brazil, basic education is divided into three levels: kindergarten for children up to five years old; elementary school for six- to 14-year-olds, and high school for 15- to 17-year-olds. Since 2008, I have taught high school students exclusively.
A few years ago, one of my students asked me a question I have always remembered: “What do teachers do at the weekend?” The question seemed naïve. However, it was a revealing insight into the minds of many students. To them, teachers only exist in the classroom; they cannot imagine us having a life outside of school. I smiled and replied that teachers are humans, too. We like to spend time with our families, and relax and have barbecues at the weekend.
Personally, I like to keep up with soccer, as well as indulging in books and music, but for some time now I have also been dedicating part of my free time to studying new teaching methods.
Last year, I had the pleasure of taking part in a large study on blended learning that was conducted by the Clayton Christensen Institute. A researcher from the institute paid a visit to the college I work at and observed my biology class, where I was implementing blended learning – a methodology that makes the student the protagonist of their learning, giving them more control over how they learn and at what pace, through combining traditional teacher instruction with the use of digital media.
A teacher can’t make the class an everlasting lecture, where the students only listen to the words of a “superior being”. Students must be at the centre of the learning process, while the teacher’s fundamental role is to guide them as they develop their skills.
The structure of the basic education system is currently being debated in Brazil. They are planning to implement a National Common Curricular Base, which defines a set of common curriculum areas for all students. One of the objectives of this is to bring the Brazilian curriculum more in line with the skills that students will need in the 21st century.
There is still a long way to go before these changes are completed and implemented, so it is too early for any type of evaluation of the new system. However, I believe it will take more than a new curriculum to change the reality of Brazilian public schools. The government needs to invest more in education. Otherwise, there will continue to be a great chasm between private and public schools.
I still dream of the day when all governments look to education as real humanitarian capital.
Igor Nornberg teaches biology at Pastor Dohms College and Anglo Vestibulares in Porto Alegre