June 20 2016
Despite her vast teaching experience, Nydia González – who was already working in the classroom before the literacy campaign – notes that if she had another chance, she would have been a better teacher.
Nydia González began working as a rural teacher of a multi-age group, in the province of Pinar del Río in 1957. When the Literacy Campaign was conducted in 1961 throughout the country, she was a young newlywed, and in the first months of pregnancy. However, none of this prevented her from assuming technical responsibility for the program in the neighborhood in which she worked.
“The first months were terrible because my pregnancy was very difficult. I constantly vomited on those walks through the countryside. It was very hard work and the situation I was in was very tough.
“But it was very interesting because there was a huge goal that lay ahead. In my area, we saw a very good response to any task because there the campesinos had been exploited for many years, and the Revolution had just given land to the people.
The revolutionary atmosphere was so good
“The revolutionary atmosphere was so good, that in fact most people readily accepted when we proposed that they not only join the campaign, but also help look after the teachers.”
Nydia has no shortage of anecdotes to share about those days, but she fondly remembers one in particular.
“I had to go from house to house talking with families to ask them to assume the care of one of the literacy teachers. I arrived at a house and knocked. The man was out back and didn’t come out. I said: Mr., please. He didn’t come out. Finally he asked me: What do you want? I replied: I bring the bread of teaching.
“He heard the word ‘bread’ and ran straight out. When he opened the door, I explained what I wanted and what it meant to learn to read and write, the importance for his future.
“After a long talk, he laughed and confessed: I came out because I thought there was bread.”
We were so young, so hopeful, so happy
In December 1961, Cuba completed the Literacy Campaign. It was immediately followed by other objectives. Photo: Pablo Gasparini.
“We saw an excellent result. It was an interesting activity as a teacher and we were all convinced that it would be achieved because we had a lot of enthusiasm.
“It was very difficult to accomplish and to teach literacy to so many people, with so many difficulties. Everything was a race against time, but we were winning. I think it was the most beautiful period we experienced. I remember it well because we were so young, so hopeful, so happy…”
Over the following years it was necessary to continue to teach those who had become literate and raise educational levels.
Another beautiful period
Nydia went to work at the Ministry of the Interior (Minint), responsible for education for combatants in Pinar del Río province. She holds fond memories of Captain San Luis at the time.
“It was another beautiful period because the fighting forces of the Interior Ministry in the coast guard and in penitentiary facilities were people with very low levels of education. Many were illiterate or had not reached third grade.
“We started looking for a teacher who could raise their educational levels. All the coast guard units in Cabo de San Antonio were located in very isolated places. In each unit we needed a teacher who could help the forces, teach all those who were uneducated.
Captain San Luis
“A school was built and there we gathered together all those who were illiterate. We prepared the course very quickly and efficiently. We taught all the combatants who could not read, and organized a huge graduation ceremony. It was a wonderful task.
“We held a national competition with all provinces at the Interior Ministry and a large silver cup was awarded to the leading group.
“Pinar del Río was at the forefront in the first competition. Captain San Luis was the head of the troops. He felt such happiness regarding these efforts and was so committed to this activity, that when he traveled to other provinces, the first thing he asked was who was not studying.
“On one occasion a regional troop leader told him he didn’t go to classes as he had a lot of work to do. San Luis replied: The only person here authorized not to go is he who has more work than me. He was enrolled at school and promptly attended his classes. That example and this requirement meant the province developed incredibly.”
If we could turn back time
After this experience Nydia González moved to the capital to work in the Political Directorate of the Interior Ministry, dealing with teacher training nationwide.
By the 1970s, her job responsibilities saw her join the Party as vice-rector of the Ñico López school, focused on pedagogy and how to make educational processes more efficient.
The interviewee recognized that this new task demanded much of her, but she always had the support of very capable people, allowing her to share the management process with department heads.
Like any good teacher, Nydia González enjoys teaching more than management activities. As such, after retirement she began to devote herself to educational work in communities. Hence her link to the Association of Educators.
Convinced of the need for research into the educational practices of the island, when asked what she would do if she could turn back time, Nydia resolutely responds:
“We teachers who have a little more experience have the responsibility of clearing the way for young people, who are going to have the real task of building this dream.
I don’t consider it work, but a pleasure
“I was always very clear that my calling was to teach, because I don’t consider it work, but a pleasure. If I were to relive my youth, obviously in my case there would be no alternative: I would be a teacher, but maybe a different type of teacher.
“I would make my school a place of extraordinary enjoyment for students, a learning space built with creative freedom – and a place of permanent dialogue with my students. I would also have learned much more, because when one listens to the different knowledge of a group, one is learning.
“I would have created a school that was not like the one I had, which was to transmit knowledge. I would have created a school where I shared knowledge with my students. I would have been a better teacher.”