Teachers-in-training try to fill an education gap
GUIRA DE MELENA · If the fresh-faced, young teachers at Victoria
del Uvero High School look as though they could be wearing the
school's blue uniform rather than leading a class, it's because only a few years ago they, too, were students there.
Under the watchful gaze of a Che Guevara mural painted on her classroom
wall, Disleydis Gonzalez, 19, teaches her 10th-grade history
students about Russia's "great socialist revolution." Down the hall, Yunielis Hernandez, 20, conjugates verbs at the blackboard in front of her
restless English class.
Gonzalez and Hernandez are part of an army of teachers-in-training who
have been assigned to elementary, middle and high schools across
Cuba as part of the government's effort to keep class sizes down despite an exodus of seasoned educators who left in search of better paying
Gonzalez confesses she felt nervous facing her first class last fall, only months after graduating from Victoria del Uvero on the outskirts of Havana.
"I was afraid they might ask me something that I didn't know the answer to," she said.
"The most difficult thing is to show the students that you, too, were
a student last [academic] year, but now you are a teacher," said Dagoberto
Garcia, 18, a
first-year university student who teaches math and science to 10th-graders
What Garcia and the others lack in experience they make up for in enthusiasm. Teaching, he says, is "a matter of vocation."
But the program is getting failing grades from some parents who think
the young teachers are rushed into schools without adequate training. Without
many of Cuba's provinces could not keep class sizes to under 20 for elementary classrooms.
"It's insanity," said Carmen Ricardo, whose daughter, 17, taught first
graders. "She passed an eight-month course and had to confront a class
full of students. What
kind of preparation can a teacher have with so little time?"
"When I studied the teachers prepared themselves," said Janet, 28, who
declined to give her last name. Her daughter is in second grade and has
teacher in training.
"These [teachers] are children who have been taken out of school to teach," she added.
More than 14,000 "emergent teachers" are working in Cuba's elementary
schools, according to Fidel Castro, who last month touted the program saying
elementary schools to reduce classes to under 20 students. About 5,000 teachers-in-training are working in middle schools and a pilot program is being tested in
Havana province high schools with about 600 trainees.
University students, which used to begin classroom training in the fourth
year of a five-year program, now start in their first year after an intensive
prep course, said
the teachers at Victoria del Uvero. Twice a month they attend courses at the university. While at the high school they rely on tutors like Pedro Perez Gomez, a
longtime math and physics teacher, who advises trainees.
"I understand what they are going through; that's why I try to help them," said Gomez, 46. "The best preparation is practice."
The program is reminiscent of Cuba's massive 1960 literacy campaign
when thousands of volunteers were quickly trained to teach farmers and
others to read and
This time, the "emergent" teachers are meant to make up for a shortage
brought on by Cuba's economic crisis, as thousands of teachers flocked
to jobs in tourism,
joint ventures or the highly restricted private sector. The flight was such that teachers are now banned from taking jobs in tourism and certain other dollar-earning
Vanessa Bauzá can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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