Throwing back and looking forward

Alright, fellow teachers and non-teachers (in case you are my friend who I forced to read my blog or simply someone who found it interesting enough to read for an unknown reason)!

I can definitely tell you that it was the best decision to spend the two months’ summer vacation in Finland and do absolutely nothing. Did I succeed? Well… The first three weeks were about turning down the engine and recovering from the work mode. After that, I was finally able to relax for some time, right before the last two weeks when the engine turned on again and I started preparing myself for the next challenge: taking a year off to travel. Before going more into that, I would like to briefly reflect my previous teaching experience and give a closure to the time I spend in Sweden. So, what did I learn and how was it useful for my career? 

Back to the philosophy of education

As one of the first assignments to write in the teacher training program was to think about your own philosophy of education and define your values as a becoming teacher. I remember thinking back then that the whole assignment was useless because A; I was focused on the first real-life test aka the first training period with real students so I couldn’t care less about philosophizing right before that, and B; I didn’t think it was worth to write about since I pretty much agreed with the Finnish curriculum. 

Ironically, this assignment came often to my mind when I studied the Swedish curriculum and got deeper into its philosophy, the history of the Swedish school system and the current political situation. The thinking process I was asked to do as a student suddenly became very important in my everyday work as it guided the lesson planning and helped me to handle student issues. Also, philosophizing and defining values became relevant tools when I found something to question in the system that I was working with. More about this topic in Pohjola-Norden magazine #1/19 (in Swedish).

Building my own philosophy of education and my identity as a teacher are obviously still in process and will likely become even more important when gaining more teaching experience. It’s interesting to see how teaching in another country and culture might change your thoughts about education.

A mnemonic for long division turned into a poem. Made by a student. Honestly, this makes so much more sense in Finnish but oh well… ”Share (literally divide) a good feedback with your friend / Tell (multiple) and be honest if you’ve done something wrong / Cut down (subtract) sweets / Drop the negative things / Repeat until you’re satisfied”

Trust keeps you going

According to the recent discussion in the Finnish and Swedish media, and my own personal experience, teachers are under a lot of pressure and they are easily being criticized for their actions. This has had a huge impact on the professional status of teachers, especially in Sweden. Teachers feel like either they aren’t doing enough or that they aren’t good enough in what they are doing. 

It’s hard for me to believe that the lack of trust on teachers and schools has gone so far in Sweden that some schools have got enormous fines for ”assaulting a student” when removing a disruptive student from a classroom in order to maintain a peaceful learning environment. Some parents even set up a Facebook group in order to share their tips on how to avoid compulsory school attendance. I believe this kind of mentality of “school against homes”, inability to discuss, lack of supporting and working together, does nothing but harm to the children left in between. It’s an unnecessary drama that threats the student’s right to learn and discover in peace. 

Usually, as a novice, you are still building your professional self-confidence. If on top of that you’re constantly scared of not fulfilling other people’s expectations, or even worse, you’re afraid of being threatened, it’s easy to start to feel like a failure. Which you are not. Even if you only just graduated, came from another country or didn’t speak the national language as your native language, you are still a qualified teacher. If they still doubt you, build a positive atmosphere and good relations so that it’s impossible to hate you. Secondly, make sure you’ve got the facts and that you know your rights as a teacher. And finally, convince yourself that you’re a pro. 

Resource check

The Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ) is currently running a project where schools can test an annual working time model and give feedback on how it is experienced in practice. In Sweden, a similar model is in common use and therefore, the contracts are based on percents (100 % means full-time, 40h/week), not on the number of classes held. This model has been strongly criticized in Finland because the teachers are afraid they will be given even more work with less money. However, I found the annual working time model in Sweden very helpful in terms of drawing a clear line between work and free time.

As a beginner, it’s common to spend more time practicing the basic skills as opposed to the masters who are already able to accomplish the same tasks automatically. I could still spend hours on refining my lesson plans or improving the wording in administration forms if I would let it happen. But since I was able to define overtime work, I gained a better awareness of the expected amount of work, the money I was paid and my own resources.

So, what happens after Sweden? I won’t tell that to you, yet, but I want you to stay tuned as the new chapter on EduExploring comes up. Cheers! 😉

Classroom in Sweden




This week it was time to thank my students for our first semester together and celebrate my first semester as a classroom teacher! It has been an amazing journey so far and I’m very lucky to continue with the same group to the next grade in Autumn. In this, the last post of the semester, I will reflect on my adventure in Sweden so far; why it was a good decision for me to take this job and stay in Stockholm, and how I did as a teacher according to my pupils.

Since I got to assess such a talented class, I thought it would be fair if the students also gave me an assessment. Last Friday one task was to have a feedback meeting (luokkapalaveri) where the pupils would assess their work as a team and my work as their teacher. We gathered in a circle to discuss the funniest things that happened during the semester (the red square), where the students succeeded together (the blue cloud), which 5 exercises they thought were the best (the flower), what the teacher has learned during the semester (green text) and what she should still practise (pink text) and what their team goal will be for the next semester (the flag). Last but not least, they gave a general assessment of my work. I can happily announce that even the teacher passed all subjects with hög grad (check out Assessment) and gets to continue to the next grade!


The assessment form for the feedback meeting with the class.

We had the last day of school on Tuesday. In our school, the skolavslutning is more like a graduation ceremony for the ninth grade rather than Finnish kevätjuhla (“spring festival”) where all the classes perform something to the parents. After the ceremony, we had our own gathering in the classroom. I was extremely nervous the day before when I realised that I was not only expected to give a speech to the students but also to their parents! My first speech in Swedish! Everything went fine though, and the parents were happy as well. How you manage your job as a teacher has a surprising amount to do with maintaining a successful collaboration with the parents, especially when you’re a novice.

In Sweden, the teachers keep on working on so-called “in-service” days after the students are gone. Yes, I will work until midsummer unlike my colleagues in Finland who take off immediately after the traditional spring psalm Suvivirsi has been sung. I guess that makes up for those many holidays we had during the spring semester, haha! I must say that I found these first three in-service days to be pretty calming though. You have time to clean and organise the classroom and your desk. Time to reset and look back on the eventful semester.

So why was it a good decision to stay in Sweden? Firstly, signing my first employment contract as a teacher felt very important as it currently doesn’t seem that easy in Finland. There are many newly graduated teachers looking for their first job with no luck. This, dear Sweden, could be one way to fix the big lack of qualified teachers here. Some Swedish school headteachers have also realised there is a resource of well-educated teachers in Finland. They have organised recruitment events where they try to tempt graduating teacher students, who can speak Swedish, to come and work in Sweden. If you’re ready to go, you may have a chance to negotiate close to a doctor’s salary for yourself. Secondly, it seems more likely to get a permanent teacher’s position in Sweden which is a huge benefit compared to Finland where young teachers nowadays go from one temporary contract to another.

Nonetheless, I can’t emphasise enough how much of a huge challenge it is to start working in another country with different school laws and a different curriculum, where the work is at least partly in a foreign language. I wouldn’t recommend doing this as a first teaching job. There are so many practical things to learn after graduating so it’s good to do at least some longer substitute work in Finland before considering working in Sweden. Otherwise, I can highly recommend doing it! I think it’s eye-opening to see different education systems and learn from them.

The main thing that makes me want to stay in Sweden for another semester, perhaps even a full academic year, is the social integration which in my case was successful. Knowing the language at least a little bit gives you a good start. For Finns, it’s just about daring to speak aloud the Swedish which we have learned in school and forgetting about our thick accent! (You probably guess what the thing I still have to practice next semester is, haha…) Social networking, traditionally or via social media, is said to be hard in Sweden, especially in Stockholm, but once you’re active and open-minded, you’ll find hospitable locals and other like-minded foreigners.



Getting back the discipline and normal order in the classroom has now been my main task. You could refer to it as the “norming after storming” stage like in the classical group developing model. I will now introduce you to two routines which I introduced to the pupils in order to maintain discipline and promote peace in the classroom. I can proudly say they finally work as they should making the daily life in the classroom much easier!

To provide some background information, I think it is worth mentioning that one big difference compared to the standard Finnish school system is that here the lessons are 60 minutes long with 10min recesses between. Still, for some 4th graders, it is a challenge to get out on time, especially during winter when you have a lot of clothes to wear. For me, the schedule was also a challenge in the beginning because I was used to the Finnish 45min+15min system. I realised that as 60min is too long for the children to remain focused, it is a challenge for me to plan a 60min lesson without the hassle of children becoming too tired by the end. 60min is also too long to stay seated.

Math Yoga

We started doing Math Yoga (matteyoga/matikkajooga) in order to increase concentration and also to move more during the long days at school. This idea was a mixture of the Finnish Liikkuva koulu project, Yoga with Adriene videos and some Pinterest pictures (“yoga for kids”). The idea is very simple. When the pupil has finished one page of math exercises he/she can go to the yoga corner (the corner at the far end of our classroom where we put some floor pillows), pick a yoga pose from a catalogue with pictures and names and hold that pose for 10 seconds. Believe it or not, they will come back and continue calculating! I also noticed that it’s good if they have the possibility to do more pages in a row and have a longer relaxing moment afterwards. The rule, however, remains the same: 1 page = 10s yoga. (See an example of a yoga catalogue below.)

Tasks of the day

Nowadays’ kids should be good at programming and coding, right? Maybe on their devices but not necessarily in reality when it comes to assigning tasks to themselves. Even though the students are very active and enthusiastic, I noticed that they aren’t independent enough to start a new (at least not a didactic) task spontaneously when the first one is completed. They come to ask me what to do next even though there are still exercises left on the same given pages. Some of the students cannot concentrate on the same subject for 60min so I figured we need more freedom to get better self-guidance and thus better order.

What really helped the children and me was to write the tasks of the day for each subject on the board every morning. I still present the new topic at the beginning of every lesson, but once they have completed their tasks they are free to move on to another subject or carry on with tasks which may not have been finished in previous lessons. On one hand, this system helps them to focus on difficult subjects where some extra time is needed. On the other hand, it gives variety to their lessons and freedom to choose what is the best way to reach a goal. Like in coding, there are different ways to get to the same goal, but the code must be thought-through with your own best logic.


Yoga poses by https://afterschool.ae




Start the game, check. Select the language, check. It’s time to choose the character. As a permanent teacher who has his/her own class, you are the closest adult to your pupils at the school. They will turn to you if they need help with exercises, if something happens during resets or if they have social issues. You are the one they lean on and whose advice they trust. But what is the role of a substitute teacher? Who am I from the pupils’ perspective?

When I was working as a teacher on call during my studies, I learned how things are done in different schools and I got to meet many students and teachers in a short time. However, I cannot really say I got to know the pupils I met since I only worked as a short-term sub for different teachers. As a short-term substitute teacher, the goal is different from regular teacher’s. Often you are called early in the morning to jump into the role of the absent teacher. Your purpose then is to make sure the pupils are safe and that they do their daily school work (if some instructions are given). Usually, you don’t know anything about the students’ backgrounds or even their names. If I think about the substitute teachers I had as a primary school student, I must say I cannot recall their names. Maybe I remember some funny things they did. But most often, short-term subs, they come and go and life goes on.

At the beginning of this job, I was often compared to the permanent teacher by the children: ”you have the same shirt” or ”we used this app with her too”. That is, of course, a good thing. Finding similarities between me and the permanent teacher makes the pupils feel safe. Also, I felt safe when hearing ”ihan sama ope” (literally translated ’the same teacher’) because then I knew I was doing it right.

Now I have been working at the school for one month. (By the way, I cannot believe how fast it is going!) At this point, I realise I’m not only a walk-in-walk-out substitute teacher whose purpose is to replace the regular teacher. I actually have my own pupils to take care of for a longer time and I can do it my own way. The children are realising the same as well. We are little by little getting used to the mixture of the old and new routines. Furthermore, this week I noticed we have begun to trust each other more. If they wouldn’t trust, they wouldn’t protest. This is at least what I try to believe now when the kids have started to tell me ”I don’t care, teach” (ironically, ”ihan sama, ope” in Finnish).

Finally, what is the difference between a regular teacher and longterm substitute teacher? Once we are settled into our new routines and we have begun to trust, we get more responsibilities and rights concerning each other. During the first month, I’ve gathered a better understanding of the students’ ability and skills which gives me tools to evaluate and support them academically. Concurrently, the children come to tell me about more personal matters and ask for advice. Even though I’m extremely tired after these two weeks of protests and testing, I’m happy to see the sign of ”we take you as our teacher”.



After sportlov I’m feeling much more confident with everyday routines at work. It’s time to focus on the special features of this new learning environment. As I’m a new teacher in another country using two foreign languages in addition to my own native language, it will still take some time to settle into this position. The motivation for being fluent in Swedish is now higher than ever because it would definitely make the work easier for me. To understand the students’ communication and their culture is one of the most important things in teacher’s work, if not the most important one. But what is the communication like in a bilingual school? How does it work to teach in two languages?

In a bilingual school, instead of one teaching language, there are two languages with academic status, which is why the lessons are usually given in both languages, more or less at the same time. The exceptions in our school are of course the Finnish and Swedish lessons where everything is in one language. The goal of this particular type of bilingual education is so-called additive bilingualism. Basically, it means that the aim is to improve two languages simultaneously and give the students good academic skills in both the major language (Swedish) and the teaching language (Finnish). Additive bilingualism is often applied in minority language schools, such as Finnish or Sámi schools in Sweden, to support the status of the national minorities.

But how to teach in two languages simultaneously? It is still a mystery to me how it is supposed to work fluently. At first, I thought it would be something like CLIL or language immersion where the goal is also to improve two languages. However, the difference to bilingual education is that the teaching language in these cases is not the students’ native language. For example in Finland, the language immersion programs (kielikylpyluokka) in Swedish are designed for children whose parents are Finnish speaking and who speak Finnish as their first language. The same with the CLIL programs in English – the students don’t speak English at home, but they learn it at school where it’s integrated into different topics. In these programs, the teacher can (in most cases) assume that the teaching language is new to all students. In bilingual schools, however, the students’ level in the two teaching languages varies. And what I’ve learned this far is that it varies a lot. Like most of the schools in Stockholm, also ours is multilingual/multicultural, not only Finnish and Swedish. Some students might even speak three languages at home in addition to the two spoken at school. Therefore, it can be very hard to define which language is the student’s “first language” (L1) and which one should be taught as the “second language” (L2). I’m getting a bit lost here with all the different concepts so let’s go back to practice.

For those students who are fluent bilinguals (both FI and SE as L1), it’s not a problem to switch between languages during the lessons. For instance, if we read a text in Swedish, the bilinguals can continue talking about it in Finnish without translating. However, I was surprised how much we need translating after all. It seems to be very important and interesting for the pupils to compare the languages. I started to question the method where the teacher should not translate but stick to the teaching language and explain the difficult words with that. If there’s a translation that means the same, why not to switch the language and translate? The translations are especially needed in math and science since the students should learn the important concepts in both languages. Usually, we mix Finnish and Swedish material depending on the topic. For those students whose Finnish is much weaker than Swedish, we have the exact same math books translated into Swedish (Tuhattaituri/Karlavagnen). Furthermore, I sometimes give instructions in both languages to those who need it. However, as I’m not bilingual (FI/SE) myself, I’ve still got a lot to do with my Swedish to be confident enough to teach fluently in Swedish.

If we go out from the academic world and listen how the pupils talk, we’ll find a third language spoken perhaps even more than “pure” Finnish or Swedish. On my first day, the students showed me a little dictionary of the language they speak with each other. They’ve started calling this mixed language as Swefi, meaning Swedish-Finnish spoken by the Sweden Finns. Mainly it’s Swedish with Finnish grammar rules, which makes funny combinations like “vessata” (means “to sharpen a pen” but to a native Finnish speaker like me it sounds more like “need to pee”). I think learning Swefi is the key to good communication and cultural understanding with the students. So the goal is set! Let’s see how it goes!




Celebrating my first holiday as a teacher, wohoo! After these rather hectic weeks in Stockholm, sportlov (winter break) had the best possible timing. To have some time to breathe and reset my mind was very much needed. Also, it is finally the time to start writing this blog! A lot has happened since I came to Stockholm two months ago. You may read the intro to get the general idea of this blog and my background. However, I will begin by telling you how I started my career as a teacher abroad.

I was very much honoured when I got the job offer from the middle school vice-principal of the very same school where I was about to start the last internship of my training. In his email, the vice-principal encouraged me to apply for a maternity leave substitute teacher’s position. At that point, the duration of the substitution wasn’t confirmed but I understood it was a chance I shouldn’t miss. I have always wanted to work abroad as a teacher but I never could have thought I’d start with that!

Things started rolling quickly. Firstly, I got the job which meant I needed to find my way through the red tape jungle of the Swedish authorities. For those who are generally interested in moving to Sweden and working there, I will later write more about my experiences with the paperwork. Secondly, I had my first salary negotiation. Nowadays in Sweden teachers have to negotiate their salaries according to experience and skills. Also more about that a bit later.

While still completing the last week of my internship at the secondary school, I was orientated for the new job as a middle school classroom teacher. Those days were filled with a lot of practical information. Learning about my new tasks and of course getting to know my new students and coworkers were the main things to focus on. I remember my mind being so overloaded that when I tried to do grocery shopping after work, I couldn’t think of any ingredients I would need for cooking. For example, müsli+yogurt was simple enough to make after a day at work.

Since I jump into the role of a teacher in the middle of a period, I had to do plenty of research about what the students had done before and what kinds of methods the teacher had used. Fortunately, the permanent teacher has been extremely helpful and a good mentor to me. I can highly recommend applying for maternity leave substitutions as your first teaching job after training because the permanent teacher is then, at least in the beginning, available to give you orientation. On the other hand, it is also challenging to learn the other teacher’s methods when you have already been practising your own way of doing things. However, I wanted to make the change of teacher as easy as possible for the pupils, too, by continuing the same routines that they had had before. On the first day as the teacher, I made a deal with the children that as much as I’m their teacher they must teach me about their routines and school life. I was lucky to get many enthusiastic experts to tutor me!