Proof of Concept: Teach For Portugal’s First Alumni Cohort
Catarina Ferreira, Alumna, Teach For Portugal
In July 2019, 16 people decided to quit their jobs, or reject other offers, and move to another city to undertake five intense weeks of full-time training, with no guarantee of being placed in a school. Teach For Portugal was about to launch.
Crazy? Many around us thought so. But maybe it was their belief in our vision that "all children deserve an education that gives them opportunities to reach their full potential" in Portugal.
It was around this vision that we gathered this first group of people with academic backgrounds in engineering, law, psychology, biology, biomedicine, communications, education, management, dentistry, philosophy, and social work for a challenging training that created a strong group spirit. The movement was beginning!
In September, Teach For Portugal Fellows began teaching in 11 schools. The first term was difficult for everyone. We were forging new relationships, trying to establish ourselves as a valuable asset in the schools, and gaining the trust of the students. The role of our Fellows was questioned. Who are they? What do they do? Something like this had never been seen before in Portuguese schools. The support of the other teachers was fundamental for us to find our way in each school.
In 2020 during the second term, as relationships were stabilizing... the schools closed. The pandemic widened social inequalities and the closing of schools had a much greater impact on the most marginalized students. The work we do became even more meaningful, and everyone—Fellows and veteran teachers—showed what they are capable of!
Margarida made students jump out of bed for online dance and gymnastics sessions. Catarina and Pedro created fun playgrounds to keep the social relationships going. Francisca and Catarina sang at the students' doorsteps so they wouldn't feel alone, Luís created the YouTube series La Casa da Educação, Ricardo made subject videos, Inês collected close to 120 donated computers, Teresa installed computers in students' homes, and Benedita fundraised to provide food food for 46 families.
Over time, the other teachers confirmed that our work was important: "Tiago wants to have an impact beyond the school walls—and now I do too.” "Manuella has developed an affectionate relationship with the students, which is essential." "The sparkle in Carla's eyes is contagious." And, "I was so lucky to have Joana’s support."
Even with countless constraints, amazing community projects have emerged, from Pedro's "Bridges for Inclusion" to bring Roma communities closer to school, to Daniela's "HealthyMind" with new routines for teachers' well-being, Ana Marta's "World Conversations" for local community members to share experiences with students, or Teresa's "Changing Lives" to mobilize students as agents of change.
The results couldn't be better! It has reinforced our belief that there are many talented people in Portugal who want to contribute to a fairer education for all. People who are grateful for the education they have had, and others who know how difficult it is to break exclusion cycles. But it is possible!
“I’ve always had a huge interest in education, but I was sure I did not want to be a teacher, because I wanted to help improve lives and not only to convey knowledge,” alumna Margarida Ramirez shared recently. “Being a Teach For Portugal Fellow made me realize that I could perfectly fulfill this goal in a school—and in fact it is maybe the most appropriate context to do so—and because of that I am now back in university, so that I can keep teaching."
In July 2021, 16 people left the Teach For Portugal program completely different. More committed to creating change, with more certainty that inequality exists and that we all have to do something to address it. Now, as alumni, this movement will inform their lives and careers.
We are very proud that in just three months we’re already seeing great things happening with this group of alumni. Ricardo is launching his own mentoring project for children and young people with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; Catarina, Joana, and Inês are joining the Teach For Portugal team; Luís, Pedro, and Teresa have been hired by leading Portuguese educational organizations; Margarida has chosen to go back to school to become a teacher; Ana Marta is demonstrating her values through a career in local politics; Manuella is embracing new challenges in Montessori education; Daniela has confirmed her belief that her work in psychology has an impact; and Tiago has ensured that the community project will continue as he prepares to study in depth school absenteeism in the Roma community.
It is truly possible that no student will be left behind. And this is only the beginning.