“Highly demanding and underpaid” is how the Southern Teachers Union (SPZS) describes their job. In fact, teachers are unable to advance in their careers and have several structural problems, making this profession unattractive to young people, which has recently caused a great shortage of teachers.

Maria João Sales, union representative for SPZS, has been a teacher for 24 years. She always wanted to become one, but now recognises that it is no longer an attractive profession. “Everyone knows how hard we work and how undervalued we are. Nobody wants to be a teacher nowadays.”

In fact, the time when being a teacher in Portugal was a profession desired by many young people is over. Currently, they are among the professional classes that most express the indignity of the conditions in which they work. Furthermore, those who foot the bill are the children who begin to not have enough teachers to fill all their subjects.

Lack of teachers

The union representative who spoke to The Portugal News assured that there is a shortage of teachers in some schools, but in the Algarve the problem is even worse due to the prices of housing rentals that prevent many teachers from applying to the region as they know it will be difficult to afford a place to live.

“We cannot forget that we are in the Algarve where a one-bedroom apartment costs at least €650. In addition, there are situations where teachers here have difficulty getting an annual contract for a house, ending up being evicted in June because the landlords send them away when the summer starts so they can instead receive holidaymakers”, Maria João Sales explained.

Regardless of what many think, “teachers only have August off. Even though classes end early, the teachers' work continues until the end of July. That's why we have many colleagues who, at the end of each school year, often go to hostels or colleagues' houses”.

On the other hand, there are some teachers from the North and Centre region who have a holiday home in the Algarve and end up applying to the region because of that, otherwise we would have even fewer teachers than we already have in the Algarve schools”, she told The Portugal News.

Most affected subjects

Although there is a shortage of teachers, it is not in all subjects. According to Maria João, the situation is even worse in Portuguese, English, geography, ICT and chemistry.

To combat this unfortunate situation, the Ministry of Education's solutions to this situation are mainly extra work for teachers and hiring people who are not qualified as teachers for the job. For example, hiring IT engineers who do not have teaching qualifications.

“In September of this year there was a shortage of teachers and as there was no one to fill these gaps and principals could soon start distributing extra hour to those who were already in schools.” This puts even more pressure on teachers, who in some cases work 50 hours a week, when they should be working 35 hours at state schools, according to a survey carried out by SPZS.

These situations lead to an ageing profession. “Nobody wants to be a teacher because as a teacher you start with a wage and then it is very difficult to increase. Let me give you an example, I have 24 years of service and I am not even halfway through my career and I am 49 years old. I will never reach the top,” she lamented.