If you know anything about PISA scores and Finland you will know that Finland’s teacher education has come under the burning spotlight since it was (surprisingly) the top performer in the OECD PISA tests a few years in a row (South Africa came two hundred and cough-cough-splutter-splutter-th. We don’t like to talk about that).
The assumption is that great scores come from great teachers and bad scores come from, well, a number of complex reasons (just ask any South African studying education). No, that’s a bit simplistic too. Great PISA scores also come from a complex web of socio-cultural, economic and political reasons not all positive and human freedom-joy focussed mind you.That said, teachers are still seen as pretty key in the endeavour of educating the young. Words like “teacher autonomy” and “professionalism” and “trust” and “quality”are touted about when talking about Finnish teachers. So, how do these normal people become (ta da ta daaaaa) teachers? They are chosen from a HIGHLY competitive field and then trained in theory and practice. The entire process takes about 6 years and they leave university with a Master’s in Teaching ready to change the world or, at the very least, keep Finland functioning.
So, off we went to a Teacher Training School just across the road from our university to see the practice side of the training.
We were met by the lovely principal of the junior school (grade 1 to 6). During his presentation on the school facts, I noticed some glitter on his blazer and I whispered to the girl next to me, “That’s the sign of a great junior school principal, he has glitter on is blazer”. Later I found out that he was not just the principal but a maths teacher too. Must be a busy man.
The school is in many ways a very normal Finnish school. There are children who come to be educated by teachers. Everyone walks around in their socks, there are sinks in all the classrooms and they have the average pupil teacher ratio. The big difference however is that the school part of the university. The teachers are paid by the university and have the responsibility to teach the children the curriculum and teach/encourage/supervise the student teacher(s) in their classroom. Because of this added responsibility, they are paid a bit more than the average pay for a teacher.The school gets about 200 student teachers a year through its doors.This is not the only place that student teachers learn to teach, but it is one of the most regular places that they might come.
The practice teaching breakdown:
In the first year of teacher education, student teachers just observe teaching in a classroom.
In second year, they have a group planned lesson and presentation, then a paired planned lesson and presentation and then finally, they will individually plan and present 3 subjects or about 12 lessons.
In their third to fifth years (after they have their Bachelor’s in Education) they now take the full course load of a teacher including meeting the parents, accommodating special educational needs and all the other administrative and creative tasks teachers do when they are not (or sometimes while) they are teaching.
Through all of this, the already qualified teacher in whose classroom the student teacher is working in, is training and helping the student teacher. The class and their education is still the qualified teacher’s responsibility so, this is not time for the teacher to take an extra long tea break. The teacher and student teacher work together to prepare lessons (or at the very least the teacher will look over the student’s plan for the lesson). The teacher is in the class while the lesson is taught by the student teacher and afterwards, feedback on the lesson is shared. The aim of the feedback is to help the student to grow as a confident teacher and student teacher are apparently encouraged to find their own solutions to issues that arise.
Even with all this training Finnish teachers say, just like they do in South Africa after only one or four years of training (that’s a long story I won’t get into now), that the real teacher training only really starts the first day on the job… when the door slowly closes and you have a whole class, your very own class, in front you waiting to see what you got.
Here’s the website for the school if you want to have a look at it.