A quarter of schools now have teachers filling in on subjects that are not their competence and teachers who have no degree.
I went to high school in a nondescript eastern Hungarian town. Yet, when a national competition in organic chemistry struck my fancy, the school’s chemistry teacher was up for the challenge. She coached me on subjects that were way beyond my age group, beyond even the advanced high school curriculum, and helped me win the national trophy – coming before students who were older than me and who had university professors coaching them. Indeed, my teacher looked pretty intimidated among the professors as she was waiting for me in the lobby.
Back then I took it granted that my teachers know more than me. That they know more than the high school requirement in their field. I had no idea that 20 years down the line the government will manage to push down the status and living standards of teachers so deeply that some schools won’t even have a chemistry teacher.
Indeed, the head of Orbán’s centralized education bureau literally said in an interview in the government’s mouthpiece daily that “not every school needs its own chemistry teacher“. The same way not every hospital needs it own doctor and not every nursery school needs a nursery school teacher, I guess. The janitor can shut the door on the kids and let them out when the parents arrive, right?
Apart from healthcare and the pension system, Orbán also really, openly hates teachers. Devaluing their salaries to the point they can’t make ends meet caused a massive shortage of teachers.
To the problem of the missing teachers the Orbánist loyalist at the helm of KKK has very Orbánist solutions:
1) deny it.
2) withhold data about it. The Teachers’ Union started this year by estimating the number of teachers missing at 12 thousand, but there is a war on those numbers
3) she forces every teaching student to start practicing during their first year in college (it is like commanding med school students to fight the pandemic, except there is absolutely no extraordinary circumstance in education that would justify such emergency measures and substandard service)
4) lesser degrees will be enough to teach in high school, some teachers will not even have to know more than their own students
5) offer some lame living expenses to students in teaching colleges and make them sign that they will only teach in state schools after graduation. Lock the unruly beasts in while they are young and ignorant!
My chemistry teacher was a legend in our town. She wasn’t in any way remarkable or a prodigy, but she was conscientious and professionally demanding of herself. That was a generation of teachers who produced legendary students, just like the pre-war math professors who churned out math prodigies (who later went on to build the atomic bomb in emigration). They were all the product of vastly overqualified high school teachers who taught with a passion.
But even by the time I graduated the teaching profession was a shadow of its former self and deeply underappreciated. Indeed, only my least academically accomplished classmates went on to study education. And given the breathtakingly poor salaries only the absolute worst aspires to be reduced to teaching today.
Teacher salaries are breathtakingly low. This chart contains the data: A normal teacher takes home around 406 euro per month (plus maybe 50 euros in additional bonuses) and even after 42 years and with the highest qualifications that number will only go up to 770 euros. Per month. And no, they don’t live in a weird alternative universe where the rent in 120 euro and children can be raised for 200 a month.
The system has an added twist that Orbán usually does to divide his victims: the group called “master teachers”. It is a randomly selected group, selected by the politically appointed directors. (Those directors are often picked without any professional approval, often despite massive professional and parental backlash.) They make a little extra money and they serve as the eyes and the ears of the higher-ups. They are very satisfied with their slightly higher salaries so they go out of their ways to sabotage and discourage strike efforts.
According to the Teachers Union 97% of their members reported difficulty making a living. That is buying food, paying rent, raising a child, getting to work. Half of them have second jobs.
Centralization and political totalism has also decimated their options and their backbones. Secondary education has been centralized under Orbán’s agency, called KKK. They don’t just rewrite history books, add daily gym classes and aggressive gender reinforcement to the curriculum as you would expect – they were also used to fire and rehire the entire teacher body of the country. You can guess who was rehired – but the story of a teacher who was told that he failed to participate at a pro-Orbán rally as a reason for not being rehired by KKK should give you a hint. This is not a secret, this is not going on discreetly: sending the message that only loyalists survive creates an atmosphere of preemptive loyalism in other groups down the line and makes ruling easier and cheaper for an autocrat.
But even when the collar was starting to really hurt teachers in 2016, they were only protesting for slightly gentler torment. And typically for a country sinking into autocracy, they were emphasizing how non-political they were – even when they were protesting the results of a deeply political rearrangement of their field and an ideologically fuelled dumbing down of the curriculum, matched with stasi-like reporting system and surveillance on what they dare to say in class. But they only protested the wages and the bureaucracy.