This morning I had a long conversation with my counterpart Marco about a a teachers' strike that is scheduled for next week. Marco tells me that the teachers won't be giving class on Tuesday, and that there is a possibility of a subsequent, indefinite strike. This is all on the national level--all of Colombia's public schools would potentially be shut down.
The way Marco tells it--and Marco's not a terribly political guy--it all comes down to a set of decretos, or laws. These national laws govern how teachers are paid and promoted. If you were hired before a certain date, then your salary and advancement opportunities are determined by the old decreto. If you were hired after a certain date, then you fall under the the system of the new decreto.
What that means for teachers like Marco, who is relatively young and early in his career, is that they are paid less than older teachers and must overcome greater obstacles to advance on the pay schedule--specifically, instead of automatically getting a raise upon earning an advanced degree or completing a certain number of years teaching, they have to pass a pretty hard evaluation.
So, Marco says, the system is unfair. There are two sets of standards, and it's much harder on new teachers than on old ones. He says that young teachers are unhappy, and university students don't want to enter the profession at all.
But he also admits that while the rules of the new decreto are unpleasantly rigorous, the old decreto was unfairly generous. He says that teachers who were hired decades ago make too much money. Marco understands why the government wants to switch over to this new system with lower starting salaries, more thorough teacher evaluation, and more demanding standards for advancement.
After talking to Marco for a while, I came to see that maybe the problem isn't really the new decreto at all, nor is it the old decreto. It's the transition. It's tough to be a new teacher, true, but it seems like people are protesting not because it's tough, but because it's tough for some teachers while it's easier for others--the perception of inequality. At least from what Marco tells me.
How do you make that transition? I don't know. If the Colombian government determines that it would be better to pay teachers in this new way, how do you get the entire country to switch over from an old system to a new one?
If we do go into an indefinite strike, I'll have plenty of time to think about it.
Here's a story that I feel gives you a good idea of how problems are solved and un-solved all the time in my community.
Nothing starts on time at my school. School itself does not start on time. Students are supposed to arrive at 6:30 and classes are supposed to begin at 6:40...but 7:00 will roll around, and teachers and students alike are still strolling in. Things just get more backed up as the day proceeds.
"Colombian time?" Sure. "Cultural?" Sure. But also highly ineffective. There's a difference between showing up to your neighbor's party half an hour late and starting every single class in the school day 10 to 20 minutes after it's supposed to begin. This isn't just my U.S., punctuality-obsessed opinion; even my Colombian counterparts agree that my school would be more functional if we started on time.
So why don't we start on time? Well, a big factor is the bell. Teachers and students won't go to class until the bell rings. Who is in charge of the bell? The coordinator (vice-principal). And while he does many things very well, he does not ring the bell with much precision or consistency.
Friends, you may remember the tragic tale
of Manchi the cat, a kitten with whom I fell in love at my school, and who was
then stolen from me. If you have not
read my blog post about Manchi, you might want to do so now. Don’t forget your tissues; it’s a
But I have good news to report. All is not lost.
I think I’m getting a kitten.
All-around excellent people Emily and
Kendra, fellow PCVs with me in Barranquilla, did a bit of scheming. Javi, another PCV, lives with a host family
that has a cat named Nala. And Nala just
had six beautiful kittens. And one of
those kittens will, if all goes well, come to live at my school.
We went to visit the kittens on
Saturday. They are wonderful
creatures. They are still really little. I want to adopt a tiny, white and black male
cat. He’s really quite perfect. His name might be William Shakespeare. Guillermo Shakespeare.