Teacher's World

Cronica.Uno’s Mabel Sarmiento reports on Caracas’s absentee schoolteacher crisis. Who has time to teach when you have to spend half your life in line to buy food?

Read the original at Cronica.Uno.

Translated by Rodrigo Palau.

“I went to the school to complain because my son is always let out early. By 10:30 or 11 am he’s home already. And when the head teacher explained to me what was happening I didn’t know what to say. He just said to me: Us teachers also have to stand in line for food and when we find out that a truck has arrived with flour or pasta we all leave to the grocery store together.”

As Doris Díaz told me about this, she seemed troubled and oddly confused. I didn’t know what to say. The truth is that I get it, I’ve also been trying to figure out whether I should stand up for children’s right to education first even while I understand perfectly that you either wait in line or end up with an empty pantry.

We’re all going through the hardships of food shortages and the loss of purchasing power.

And Doris’s son’s teacher is just another one of us lost in a spiral of misery. How can you argue with someone who quite simply has no other way eat?

The teacher told Doris that everyday he talks to teachers who have sent their own kids to school without breakfast or that get through the day with whatever the school cafeteria  can give them fiado (on informal credit).

He pointed out that they’re also hit by the crisis and that they go to bed every night thinking about what they’re going to eat the next day.

Doris’s son studies in a private school in Coche, in Southwest Caracas. In this school a teacher can make between 70 and 90 bolivars an hour. Some of them work full time in one school while others work in more than one, hoping to round up their wages however they can.

Let’s say pasta arrives to the store here in Coche, they sell the combo of two half-kilo packs and one can of diablitos for 1500 bolivars. A carton of eggs is at 3000 bolivars and a kilo of beef is at 5000 bolivars. With their poor wages teachers can’t even think about three meals a day.

Plenty more to talk about

Mirna Cáceres is another teacher in the area. She doesn’t deny what the head teacher told Doris. She also told me that even working in a private school and in a public school it isn’t enough for her to buy the basic food basket.

“That’s why I get up early every Tuesday to go and wait in line at the market and miss the first hours of class. On Thursdays, the assigned day for my Cédula (ID) number, I line up at the supermarket. If I get out early I’ll go to school. But sometimes I don’t find anything to buy.”

Orlando Alzuru, the president of the Venezuelan Teacher’s Federation (FVM), said that’s just the reality the teachers are facing.  “We are also Venezuelan, we are hit by the crisis. Just like children are missing school because they have no food at home, teachers face the same situation. It isn’t just the insecurity that exists in their community or around their schools,  they can’t be certain of having three meals a day.”

He estimated that between 30 and 40% of teachers in Caracas do not show up at work on a given day.

Empty pockets

Alzuru doesn’t condone teachers missing classes, but he understands their situation.

“They just have no other choice. We know this is bad because it harms the quality of education, it interrupts the teaching program and affects the school calendar, which has already been reduced by classes being cancelled. But how can we avoid this? Teachers also have to provide food for their families.”

From June 1st this year, a starting teacher (salary Level-I) will earn Bs.18,464 a month, not including the food ticket supplement, and a senior teacher (Level-VI) with over 20 years of work and graduate degrees will earn Bs.27,381 a month.

Most teachers are between Level-III and Level-V, earning between Bs.19,809 and Bs.23,714.

“With these salaries it’s very hard to fill your fridge and paying bachaqueros is out of the question. Sometimes you can’t even afford bus fares.” said Mirian Cáceres, another teacher.

Eating poorly isn’t the only thing Venezuela teachers have to deal with. They live in overcrowded conditions, in badly built ranchos, in shanties. They deal with runaway inflation, they’ve lost purchasing power and they’re victims of the government’s disrespect to their career. There’s even insecurity in their own classrooms, which also lack basic services and infrastructure.

I can only come to one sad conclusion, and I’m most definitely outraged about it:  teachers are caught in a trap. Their lives go by trying to survive. This is no way to educate a generation that could help us get out of this crisis. We will suffer the consequences for decades.

In collaboration withCrónica_1_-Pos_lema

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.