Being a Teacher in Cuba

Rosa Martinez

Classroom in Santiago de Cuba. Photo:

Maria del Carmen is a relative of mine who’s 26 and who has worked for five years in an elementary school on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba, “the hot land.”

Maria could have been a doctor, an engineer or an architect, because since she was little she was intelligent and studious; that’s why her dedication and talent always placed her among the best in her class.

When she was in the 12th grade her classmates had to study day and night, or —like we say in good Cuban— “burn the eyelashes” (or midnight oil) to earn their way into the best fields of study. Fortunately for Maria, she didn’t need to make such major efforts to realize her dream: to be a teacher.

Medicine was among the fields that had the greatest number of slots available, and which at that time interested most students.  In Cuba, it’s a profession that enjoys great prestige, and since the emergence of the “internationalist missions,” it has been associated with another incentive, one that is very attractive to students and parents alike.

It was no longer only a career of great sacrifice and lots of study, but one that also offered the opportunity to materialize the dream of all Cubans: to travel and to advance economically.

When Maria decided what she would study, she got a lot of criticism from her family and friends, but she didn’t listen to any of them. She didn’t pay the least bit of attention to her mother, who said, “My girl, education doesn’t provide you with anything.”

“Don’t you see what your mother has to go through? With 15 years as an educator, everybody knows her, she’s had an excellent career, and even still she’s going crazy trying to get out of that field,” repeated her father to her on more than one occasion.  He’s a history graduate, but has always worked in museums or other historical institutions.

A career for failures

Her friends didn’t think any differently.  Her best friend Julia once told her: “It’s unbelievable that you’re opting for education, as intelligent as you are.  With your grade point average you can pick any career you want.  Girl, don’t waste your talent!

Cuban students. Photo: Caridad

Others told her that education was the career of failures, the last card in the deck.

Only her grandfather supported her decision.  To him, the only thing that mattered was that Maria study the field that she liked and that she realize her dream, something that he himself was never able to achieve.

Five years have now passed since my young niece prevailed and received her degree as a graduate in education specializing in elementary education.  There have been more than a few difficulties that she’s had to face, but the satisfaction is even greater.  Nothing makes her happier than the smiles of her children, who she spoils as if they were her own.

Although she works with younger children, she makes a great deal of effort to stay up-to-date, to learn more every day, and to be prepared for each question posed by any one of her little soldiers in their red uniforms and blue neckerchiefs.

On September 6, Maria returned to her classroom with the same happiness as five years ago. She has a new group of children, smaller and more restless than those in the previous class.  Nonetheless, she will always try to be the very best teacher she can, the one who never regrets having chosen the best vocation: that of a teacher.