Finland Travel Log: Pre-Departure Notes
I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport, minutes from embarking on a trip to Helsinki to study the Finnish education system, with a delegation of U.S. foundation officials, policy wonks, and top-level government officials. Finnish students, in international comparisons of student achievement, hold top academic rankings at the same time their nation’s schools are being filled with increasingly diverse children and adolescents.
A huge kudos to the National Public Education Support Fund (and the leadership of Dan Leeds and Terri Shuck) for sponsoring five-plus days of school and classroom visits as well as intensive work sessions with top-ranking policy officials in both education and child care, teachers and teacher educators, union and ministry leaders.
Leading our week’s work will be Linda Darling-Hammond, author of Teacher Education Around the World, and Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons. I just finished reading both these books and was struck by the fact that in Finland, teacher education is viewed as a paramount investment, not an unnecessary expense (LDH). Finnish policymakers and the public view teachers with respect, and put a teaching, learning, and assessment system in place that is built on trust in those who teach.
Most media reports of the Finnish miracle focus on the selectivity involved in becoming a teacher. But rarely do we hear about the respect that’s paid to Finnish teachers, both pre-service and in the classroom. I wonder why.
In Finland, there is no need for high-stakes accountability (including rigid measures of teaching effectiveness) because all teachers are well prepared (at government expense) and are afforded the time (only 19 hours a week of direct instruction of students compared to 32+ in America) to develop and adapt curriculum, design and score student assessments, collaborate around problems of practice, and build school-community partnerships.
I am thinking a lot about what I will witness firsthand about the Finns’ respect for teachers—and my thoughts turn to my colleague, Jon Eckert, teacher education professor at Wheaton College, and one of his recent top-flight graduates (scored over a 1350 on her SAT) who recently graduated with honors (cum laude) with a K-9 certificate, fluent in Spanish, and with student-teaching experience in Illinois schools as well as in Guatemala and Ecuador.
But Morgan cannot find a teaching job, as she describes in this transformED blog post, because of aloof district administrators as well as apathetic principals. She had to consider part-time positions and ones that paid incredibly low salaries—without benefits.
Would Finnish school leaders allow a highly qualified teacher candidate like Morgan to teach a sample lesson without listening to or even watching her? I doubt it.
I’ll be posting my thoughts and observations on my blog from Finland all next week—check back for more posts, and follow me on Twitter at @BarnettCTQ. I’m eager to share what I learn.