The Violent Union Protests Happening in Mexico Don’t Represent All Teachers

Gabriel Páramo y Laura Martín: Maestros que sí trabajan en México. Imagen del autor.

Gabriel Páramo and Laura Martín: Teachers who are working in Mexico. Image from the author.

Teaching others, especially young people, to harness the tools that make knowledge accessible is praiseworthy. In a country like Mexico, where advancements in education are “unstable and mediocre” according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the effort and passion that teachers bring to their classrooms every day can often go unacknowledged.

It doesn't help that teachers in Mexico are finding themselves lumped together with the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) union, which has mounted violent protests against constitutional education reform that, among other things, asks for teacher performance evaluations.

With this in mind, we decided to talk to teachers without connections to the CNTE about their opinions and perceptions of the conflict to provide a point of view that normally doesn't make headlines in Mexico's big news outlets.

We began with Gabriel Páramo, a professor who has been teaching classes to undergraduate students for 21 years, 16 of those in the Carlos Septién García School of Journalism in Mexico City. We asked him specifically about the issues surrounding the CNTE and the demands they are making of the government.

Global Voices (GV):  As an educator, do you feel bothered by the fact that your colleagues are blocking roads and intersections to make their demands heard? 

Gabriel Páramo (GP): Como docente no me siento agraviado. Creo que cuando las opciones legales se cierran, cuando hay manipulación de la información, cuando el poder se escuda en términos como eficiencia y productividad para castigar al trabajador y reducir sus derechos, es necesario tomar medidas extremas.

No todas las exigencias son legítimas, como la herencia de plazas, aunque, ¿alguien ha escuchado que se herede plazas pobres en la montaña o en comunidades indígenas?

Gabriel Páramo (GP): As an educator, I don't feel offended by it. I think that when legal options are closed, when there is manipulation of information, when those in power hide behind terms like efficiency and productivity in order to punish workers and take away people's rights, extreme measures are necessary.

Not all of the demands are legitimate — like inheriting job posts — although, has anyone ever heard of inheriting a poor post in the mountains or in indigenous communities?

Páramo's answer refers to the “inheritance” of job posts, or the transfer of a teaching post to the teacher's chosen successor after his or her death, a privilege members of the CNTE want to preserve.

GV:  How would you explain what has been happening with the CNTE over the past few months to an international audience? 

GP: Tanto la CNTE como el Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación son uniones laborales que durante años han funcionado como parte del modelo corporativista del Estado mexicano.

La caída del Partido Revolucionario Institucional [en el año 2000] con Vicente Fox y Felipe Calderón [presidentes del país entre 2000 y 2012] debilitó los lazos de dichos sindicatos con el gobierno; a su regreso al poder el Partido Revolucionario Institucional descubrió que ya no los controla totalmente y ahí sobrevino el conflicto.

Además, las bases magisteriales [quienes integran éstos sindicatos] se politizaron y emprendieron reivindicaciones que sobrepasaron a los líderes cupulares.

GP: Both the CNTE and the National Education Workers’ Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) are unions which have worked as part of the corporatist model of the Mexican state for years.

The fall of the Institutional Revolution Party [in 2000] with Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón [presidents of Mexico from 2000-2006, 2006-2012] debilitated the ties between the aforementioned unions and the government. When the Institutional Revolutionary Party returned to power they realized that they no longer completely controlled the unions — this is where the conflict arose.

In addition, the rank and file teachers [who make up these unions] became politicized and began making demands that surpassed the top leaders.

It should be mentioned that in the beginning of 2013 one of the aforementioned union groups were hit hard, with the arrest of Elba Esther “La Maestra” (The Teacher) Gordillo, who presided over the National Education Workers’ Union and who today faces charges of money laundering and organized crime.

To get more views on the issue we spoke with Laura Martín (@laumartinm on Twitter). She teaches classes in a variety of degree subjects at a private university.

GV: How long have you been teaching? 

Laura Martín (LM): Desde el año 2003. Lo que me motivó fue la admiración que tenía hacia algunos profesores. Me entusiasmaba la dedicación y el respeto con el que impartían las clases. El ser catedrática me ha llevado también a seguirme preparando continuamente, estudiando una maestría y tomando numerosísimos cursos de formación y actualización docente así como de desarrollo humano.

Laura Martín (LM): Since 2003. I was inspired by the admiration I had for a number of my professors. I felt energized by the dedication and respect they employed as they taught classes. Being a professor has also allowed me to continue studying, to do my master's and to take a large number of continuing education and teaching courses as well as human development.

GV: Do you think that the teaching profession is well respected in Mexico? Does society have a good image of teachers? 

LM: Lamentablemente en la actualidad el magisterio nos deja en vergüenza, la profesión no es respetada, la imagen que tenemos los maestros es pésima ante la sociedad. La gente considera que toda persona que es profesor es burócrata, flojo, conformista, corrupto e inculto, cuando en realidad existimos personas comprometidas con la labor y aclaro que mi formación académica no es la docencia, pero tengo la responsabilidad en formar futuros profesionistas y contribuir a su crecimiento profesional y personal.

LM: Unfortunately, the current educational situation is an embarrassment, the profession isn't respected, society has a terrible image of teachers. People think that all teachers are bureaucratic, lazy, conformist, corrupt and uneducated, when in reality there are so many of us who are dedicated to this profession. I want to clarify that although my academic background is not in education, it is my responsibility to teach future professionals and to contribute to their professional and personal growth.

GV: Your mother was a primary school teacher in public schools. What has she told you about the animosity that the CNTE protests have created in Mexico? 

LM: Está muy triste y preocupada por estos movimientos. Durante casi 40 años ella fue una profesora dedicada a sus alumnos, comenzó a dar clases en escuelas con niños en condiciones de extrema pobreza, en los tiraderos de basura de la hoy gentrificada zona de Santa Fe; jamás faltó a dar clases por ir a marchas y siempre estuvo dispuesta a la evaluación realizando exámenes que la hicieran subir peldaños en la carrera magisterial.

Durante todos los años de su servicio, le tocó ver muchas cosas indignantes del comportamiento de sus compañeros, desde la maestra que tejía en clases y utilizaba la frase hacen como que me pagan, entonces hago como que trabajo”, el que bebía alcohol detrás del estante, la sobrina de una inspectora que estaba en nómina pero sólo hacia acto de presencia cada quincena a recoger su cheque y la que con faltas de ortografía ponía a los alumnos a escribir 100 veces alguna frase.

Este es el perfil de algunos de los maestros que están protestando en las manifestaciones.

LM: She is very sad and worried by these movements. For 40 years she was a dedicated teacher who started out teaching classes to children living in extreme poverty in the garbage dump that is now the gentrified Santa Fe area. She never missed classes to go to protests and she was always willing to take exams which allowed her to climb up the professional education ladder.

During her years as a teacher she witnessed a lot of outrageous behavior from her colleagues: the teacher who knit during class and said, “They act like they pay me so I act like I'm teaching”; the teacher who drank alcohol behind the shelves; the education inspector's niece who was on the payroll but only showed up every two weeks to get her paycheck and who forced students to write — with spelling mistakes — some phrase 100 times.

These types of people represent some of the teachers who are protesting.

Martin also took the opportunity to ponder the constant protests:

LM: ¿Qué hay detrás de los intereses de los líderes sindicales, que van más allá de las inconformidades a la reforma educativa? ¿por qué a este movimiento se están uniendo grupos que no pertenecen al magisterio?

Los más afectados son sin duda los alumnos que llevan meses sin tomar clases, lo que ocasiona una recesión en la educación, ¿qué pasará con estos niños que supuestamente son el futuro de México?

LM: What is behind the interests of the union leaders? Is there something more to their disagreements with education reform? Why are non-education related groups joining the movement?

Without a doubt, the most affected are the students who have gone months without classes. This is causing an educational recession. What is going to happen to these children who are supposedly the future of Mexico?

There are also campaigns popping up on social media showing support for those teachers who are still working and accept evaluation. On Twitter the hashtag #CreoEnLosMaestros (#IBelieveInTeachers) particularly stands out :

“To all the good teachers: Good Luck on your exam!” #IBelieveInTeachers

Excellent #Teacher attendance at the #PerformanceEvaluation in the #Tlaxcala Expo Center #IBelieveInTeachers

Beyond the current circumstances is the dedication that many Mexican teachers bring to the work they do for their students. It is a dedication that will hopefully bear fruit in the near future.

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