Conversation with Yulieski Riverón (Havana, 1983) Professor of Physics.
HAVANA TIMES – One of the qualities I most admire in people is their willingness to teach. I’ve always seen it as an art, for which you have to be gifted. Educating other people is also one of the noblest professions.
The mere fact of working for another is admirable, especially if you work at training and educating them at both a professional and a personal level. And that’s what teachers do, or are supposed to do.
It is a real shame that in Cuba there are fewer and fewer teachers who have the gift for the job, who really love teaching, who feel it is more a need than a duty for them.
It is a disgrace that the teaching profession has been taken so lightly, that the country’s fate has been left in the hands of people who, although they may not be entirely without merit, certainly do not entirely measure up to the job.
There are countless reasons for the drop in the number of teachers. I can mention one, which is very close to me.
I consider my mother one of those teachers with a vocation. Twice she quit the ranks of teachers, for the same reason each time and that is fraud.
You can combat fraud in the classroom, but how do you do it outside the classroom? When you are approached by a principal worried about low grades in the classroom. Not concerned about the students, but for the school’s image, the administrator’s own image that is, which is directly related to the privileges such a position of power entails.
“If Cuba becomes another country in twenty years time it would be an unprecedented achievement. But then I would be about fifty. I would be in full possession of my mental faculties, but I would have lost my youth. And how many opportunities would I also lose waiting for “change.”
More of the same: the accursed vicious circle of the conceited villager. The snake that bites its tail.
People often associate the idea of good teachers with advanced age. I am not blaming anyone who thinks like that. Given the recent outflow of fast track teachers, faith in the young has naturally been lost.
It is like everything else: people make the mistake of generalizing and go from one extreme to another. There are also gifted talents within the awful cohorts of instant teachers.
The same is true with the Teacher Training Institutions. I am now getting to the reason why I am writing today. I had the opportunity to talk with a graduate of one of these institutions with the qualities I admire so much and consider essential in a teacher: the love of teaching.
This young physics professor, currently teaching in a senior high school in the Vedado district, will be one of those painful losses, when he manages to achieve his dream of immigrating to the United States.
It is a dream long cherished by Yulieski Riverón, possibly dating back to his early teens. Some years ago, when he was in the fifth year of his study course, he was in a position to make it happen but his family was against it, or so he says. They said no matter his reasons for giving up his studies he had to finish them because he was financially dependent on them.
Now the situation has changed slightly. He has a job, though that does not mean much. There is also the fact that his wife emigrated, about a year and a half ago. Other family members have already settled in the United States and the urgent need he feels for a better life are making him prepare for his trip abroad.
But what does a better life mean for a young man like this. The first thing that came to mind when I challenged him about it was being able to plan his vacations. “Get away somewhere far, with my wife, relax on the beach, and forget the world for a week,” he said.
But that is a possibility in this country, perhaps one of the most viable options, I said. I told him saving methodically to get to the figure of 400 CUC would allow him to stay in a hotel in Varadero, the cheapest, all-inclusive deal giving him four days and three nights, transport there and back included with something left to spend. And this is just one of many offers you can get for the Varadero beach, considered one of the finest in the world.
He laughed in my face of course: “How am I going to manage to save 400 CUC,” he said, “when we know the average salary hardly allows you to meet your basic needs.”
I then asked him what he planned to do when he got to the United States. “Work, of course, make money so I don’t have to depend on my family and get my qualifications certified and my wife’s too. Doing whatever, in a cafe, a shop, anything that allows me to create a good basis for the rest of my life. ”
“And wouldn’t you be able to do the same in Cuba? Doing whatever, in one of those many cafes or restaurants we have, many of them very successful and with lots of customers, without giving up teaching. You could also give private lessons or rent a room or an apartment or whatever…”
It is a real shame that in Cuba there are fewer and fewer teachers who have the gift for the job, who really love teaching, who feel it is more a need than a duty for them
He looked at me in silence, as if sizing me up. Then he realized I am provoking him and smiled. “Havana is a place dear to me. I was born here, and I’ve hardly ever been outside it. I identify with my city, my country. I have nothing against them, the Cubans. But in Cuba there are many things that are not right. Too many.”
“I believe in change,” Yulieski says. “I believe it because I see it, we’re undergoing it. But they have to change lots of things and those changes are not going to come from one day to the next. How long could they take? Maybe twenty years if you want to be optimistic about it. Twenty years in history are like a second in the life of humankind.
“If Cuba becomes another country in twenty years time it would be an unprecedented achievement. But then I would be about fifty. I would be in full possession of my mental faculties, but I would have lost my youth. And how many opportunities would I also lose waiting for “change.” to occur. Haven’t you heard that song that goes ‘I want it all and I want it now’?”
Currently I have nothing against people emigrating. I myself emigrated from my hometown to the capital; although it is only in this country or developing countries generally that domestic migration has serious connotations.
I used to be afraid of the dangers of living in countries with high levels of violence, with murders in the news every day, sky-high prices for health and education services, corruption at all levels … the gruesome capitalist life taught to us in school.
But Cuba is no different from other countries in this respect, except that the press doesn’t make these gruesome things visible. Like everywhere else in the world, lying is endemic. The reasons might seem different but in the end it’s all due to the same thing: Power.
In Cuba teachers do not strike for higher wages and better working conditions. But they accept bribes in exchange for good grades, or blackmail the parents for the same purpose. It does not matter if they give good classes or whether they consider it important for children to learn things useful to them in future.
Luckily, there are still those who refuse to get involved in this chicanery. My mother didn’t. And neither does Yulieski. Each for their own reasons. Nor do others like them who refuse to waste their intelligence on lost causes.