Teachers have two months left for creating and uploading their portfolio to an online database if they want higher wages from January 2015. Of the almost 26,000 teachers affected, only 8,000 are registered so far on the database. A group of educators, including well-known and successful teachers, have declared that they are unwilling to bow to the new system and won’t make or submit their portfolios, even if it means they will probably remain in the lowest category.
Public education underwent several changes recently. It all started by nationalising the schools in 2012, when all public schools were taken from the councils into state control. September 2013 then became the month of revolutionising public education. The first step was introducing the “all-day school”, requiring children to stay at school under teacher supervision from 8am to 4pm. Exceptions can be made but in each case the reason must be justified. At the same time, new subjects were introduced, with elective religious or ethical studies, and everyday physical education was made compulsory, even if many schools don’t have the capacity.
And then there was the new system of school books. Teachers could choose from two books listed for every subject and year, and ordering them was free. The distribution was also changed and the system didn’t seem to work at first, with several schools not receiving the needed books on time. Some arrived two months after the school year began.
After nationalising the schools, the curriculum and the books, the only leak left in this plan was the teachers. The so-called “pedagogue career model” was introduced at the beginning of the school year last September. This new system first and foremost promised fairer wages for teachers in public education. Overtime is no longer paid but the working hours were raised from 22 to 26 hours. The wages of teachers are now measured to the general minimum wage but this sum can be raised if the educator moves up the ladder of the system.
The career model divides teachers into six categories, with interns, who have 0-2 years of practice in the field. The Educator 1 category is for people with 6-9 years of practice in the profession, Educator 2 is for teachers with over eight years in the field. With at least 14 years of teaching experience, one can be a Master educator after completing specific exams, or Researching teachers if they have academic degrees and publications. The final stage is for those who are five years before retiring age; they can apply for fewer working hours. The key to moving up in this system is the portfolio.
But what is this portfolio? It is a document that teachers are required to make for themselves, in which they include at least their curriculum vitae, diplomas and lesson plans for a minimum 10 classes. Optionally they can also choose to provide their publications, tell about their professional successes (or failures if they decide to share them), their artistic activity or proposals for developing their environment in teaching. They can even upload photos and videos of some of their classes, on the condition that they have permission from every parent whose child’s face appears. According to calculations, each portfolio will end up being 70-150 pages long.
The problem for teachers has its roots in this new system. The Ministry of Education now puts every teacher in Educator 1, regardless of their experience, even if they just received their diploma or if they have been practising the profession for 30 years. Doctorate degrees, years of experience and specific exams or certificates no longer make a difference; everyone is back on the starting block. Currently every teacher in the system, about 25,000 people, is required to upload a portfolio in the database provided by the ministry if they want to get in Educator 2 in January 2015. To help the teachers in making their portfolios, a 163-page guidebook was published about a month ago, and the portal for teachers to upload these documents was released at the beginning of February. The deadline is 30 April.
Another question that arises: if each of the 25,000 teachers uploads a 100-page portfolio, who will check them?. The answer is a mystery. The Ministry of Human Resources announced that 5,000 people will be employed to check the portfolios and visit classes in groups of three, and teachers will have to defend their work to them. The whole project will cost about HUF 10 billion, from European Union resources.
Some teachers have raised their voices. Many well-known educators from all over the country sent an open letter to the Ministry of Education and announced a boycott. They refuse to upload their portfolios and therefore choose to remain in Educator 1 category, because they believe they have no other chance to express their revulsion against this classification system. Silence gives consent here.
“The most scandalous mistake of this rating system is that it puts experienced and previously more highly paid teachers retrospectively on the starting block,” the letter says. “It resets every past achievement, even a whole life’s work… It makes accredited, mostly university diplomas, certificates, professional work up until now. Imagine a general, who wakes up one morning as a major.”
The signatories believe that the new system is not only degrading for the teachers but also for those institutes that gave them certificates and diplomas. All these achievements are suddenly worthless, they say; the only thing that matters is that teachers collect them in the portfolio, and then someone else will decide if it makes any difference.
Some say the portfolio in itself is not a bad idea but in its current form it is ill-judged, unprepared and degrading. László Arató, chairman of the Association of Teachers of Hungarian Language and Literature, told ATV: “The portfolio itself is a modern evaluating tool, the problem is that even a laptop can be used as a stone axe.” In his opinion, if the portfolio is used for creating uniformity, similarity among teachers, they will end up being just another brick in the wall.
Another problem for teachers is time to prepare it. They have to collect every document and achievement retrospectively; some might have to collect a life’s work. Teachers have never been trained to create this kind of paperwork, especially at short notice. The danger could be that in the upcoming months they will be forced to go to classes unprepared because the submission deadline is approaching.
“We just want to teach,” said Mariann Schiller, high school Hungarian and English teacher in an interview with ATV. “I for example want to teach that the work someone does for a long time pays off. Now I feel like a student who has received good marks all year, but at the closing of the semester the teacher tells me that I have to do an oral exam in order to pass the course.”