Using a laptop and calendar for the first time after two months. Back to school.

The new school year is kicked off again and for the first time, I do it as a teacher. I was both nervous and enthusiastic about it. Do I remember to do everything I need to do? Do I even know what I’m supposed to do? Have the students grown during the summer?  How should I decorate my class? What is the beginning of the 5th grade like? The to-do list for the first planning days was endless. But when the students started the school, it felt like everything was back to normal. I got a fresh new start in the environment I already knew. But it’s rapidly changing now. As the Swedish parliamentary elections will be held on Sunday next week, I bet there will be many changes in the Swedish education politics.

Last May when I was given the newest version of the time allocation guideline for the Swedish elementary schools, it was hard to see what it actually means in practice. When I got our schedule for the new academic year, my first thought was: this may be tough. So many hours of Swedish, math, science and social studies, in addition to Finnish, which is the choice of our school (Skolans val*)… Even fewer hours for artistic and practical subjects than before. I was quite shocked when I realized that these subjects (P.E., arts, music and crafts) cover only 12 % of the 5th graders’ weekly schedule. That means 88 % of theoretical subjects! How will the students cope with the long days of studying fact if they don’t get enough time to work with their hands? Obviously, we learn by doing and integrate practical skills in theoretical subjects, too, but is that enough?

Another rather interesting option for this lack of creativeness is the subject called elevsval, ”student’s choice”, a democratic forum provided by Skolverket, the Swedish National Agency for Education. It’s actually not a subject but it has its own block in the schedule. The idea of this class is, apparently, to offer the students a chance to deepen their knowledge in some particular subject of their choice. But isn’t that something they should do in every subject so that they would find their favourite topics and interests? And shouldn’t the teacher give a chance to deepen the knowledge more often than just once a week? I’m still a little confused about elevsval because I think the purpose mentioned on Skolverket’s website is something that I try to do almost every other class after studying the basics of some skill. Furthermore, if I see that a topic is thought-provoking among the students and they would like to know more about it, it’s my pleasure – and duty as well – to give them more information and encourage them to study it deeper. As I do so, the students are given a chance to deepen their knowledge by their own choice, aren’t they? I wonder if the students, especially the younger ones, even know what knowledge to deepen at school without a teacher introducing different topics to them.

”Why is elevsval a teacher’s choice?” (Student, 10)

In essence, the problem is not the idea of elevsval. I think it has a good purpose which should be featured in every subject, in every class if possible. The problem is “the full additional hour” we now have in our schedule since the duration for elevsval was increased from 40min to 60min per week in middle school. After fixing the schedule of my class the best I could, elevsval ended up being the last class on Fridays at 2pm. That got both me and the students thinking: Is that really ”the students’ choice” to be at school until 3pm on Fridays to ”deepen their knowledge” aka studying more? After the first two weeks, it’s deepening their restlessness, that’s for sure…

I would love to give more time to the students to practice their skills in artistic and practical subjects because I believe that’s a good way to enhance self-expression, personal development and confidence. Only if I could give that extra time to deepen the knowledge when it’s actually wanted and needed – for example, by making the 30min music class a bit longer so that everybody could try playing bass or by letting them finish their drawing after the art class for 40min. But I can’t because the practical subjects are taught by subject teachers who have their own schedules and elevsval is my class.

”If we pupils could decide what to do in elevsval, we wouldn’t even have that class.” (Student, 11)

We’ve had a couple of routines in elevsval class. First, going through next week’s topics and homework. Second, watching Lasten uutiset (Finnish news for children by Helsingin Sanomat) and discuss the topics. Sometimes we play games or watch films, sometimes we talk about emotions and social skills. Nothing too heavy but still too much on Friday afternoon. The kids are already looking forward to starting their after-school activities and hobbies, where they usually have a natural chance to focus on their interests and practice life skills.

Next week’s topic will be the elections. I wonder how my students would choose in elevsval if this week the class was about deepening their knowledge in democracy and public participation… Hand voting on staying at school vs. finishing earlier?

”We want to go home earlier on Friday. That’s our choice!” (Student, 11)


*Schools with specialist status in for example arts, sports, language or science, are allowed to subtract minutes from other subjects except for core subjects. The core subjects in Sweden are Swedish or Swedish as a second language, math and English. Therefore, the minutes for the particular subject or subjects are usually taken from practical subjects.


Read more:

The Swedish Time Allocation Guideline for Elementary Schools: https://www.skolverket.se/undervisning/grundskolan/laroplan-och-kursplaner-for-grundskolan/timplan-for-grundskolan

Elevsval: https://www.skolverket.se/skolutveckling/anordna-och-administrera-utbildning/anordna-utbildning/anordna-utbildning-pa-grundskoleniva/anordna-elevens-val



As my colleagues in Finland are already celebrating the last day of school, I can at least say this week was the last full week in our school. The pupils, as well as their teacher, are waiting for the summer vacation to start! For me, the last big challenge was to assess the students’ development based on the past 4 months. To be able to do it accurately, I had to study a completely different assessment system and then apply it in practice. What a project, I must say! Anyway, I made it, the kids made it and everybody is now satisfied. Now, some words about the differences between the Finnish and Swedish assessment systems and then I’m ready to pack up the books and take the kids to a couple of long-awaited field trips!

It wasn’t such a long time ago when I was (once again) studying the latest version of the Finnish national curriculum (2014) for some school assignment. Even though I have ended up working in Sweden, it was a good base. There are many similarities between the Finnish and Swedish curriculums, ironically, even so many similarities that the Finnish one has been criticised for taking bad examples from Sweden (Enkvist 2016). Anyway, what I think is different, is the culture of assessment. A simple comparison between the number of pages about assessment in general showed that in Finland assessment was really being put on the table in 2016 when the curriculum was released. In the Finnish Curriculum, there are 23 pages about “Assessment of learning” whereas in the Swedish Curriculum under the title “Assessment and certificate” there’s half a page of text. Is it about finding assessment important or keeping it simple? Best to take a look into the actual content. What’s different between the systems?

As we mainly focused on the curriculum 2014 during my studies, the importance of assessment is stuck in my head. It should be continuous, comprehensive and clear. Always think about how you justify the assessment. In Finland, the elementary schools can decide whether they use a numeric grading scale (from 4 to 10 where 4 is failed) or a verbal assessment to describe the students’ learning. Also, the grades have specific words to describe them. 7 is for “satisfactory” and 8 is for “good”. Even though many schools in Finland are now increasing the amount of verbal assessment on the certificates, this old scale is still widely used all around Finland and it’s the scale the older generations know, too.

The first big astonishment for me about assessment in the Swedish school system was that teachers don’t give grades in elementary school (this can vary in other cities). Instead, the teacher answers to an assessment argument in each subject: “The student is assessed to achieve the required knowledge in the Xth grade, provided that the development happens at the current rate”. Basically, it asks whether the student has achieved the specific learning goals the Swedish National Curriculum has defined for each subject. As you can see, the sentence became a closed yes/no question when I interpret it the way I did. However, there are three possibilities to choose from when the teacher does the assessment: i hög grad (”highly”), ja (”yes”) and osäkert(this was difficult to translate but it’s something like ”uncertainty”). How do these words describe the development of a student’s learning?

Basically, if the student has done everything that was asked and showed his/her knowledge, the assessment is ja. “Yes, the student achieves the goals”. If the student does more than was required, its i hög grad. My second astonishment was the meaning of osäkert. Can you say ”uncertain” in an assessment? If you choose this option ”uncertain if achieved the goals”, it means that more support needs to be provided for the student after the assessment. It also has to be verbally explained why the student didn’t reach the goal. Why is the word ”uncertainty” if it needs to be clarified anyway?

The third astonishment was that these options don’t match any kind of an assessment scale. What is there between yes and uncertain? Or if there’s yes, where’s no? If a student doesn’t reach the assessment criterion, shouldn’t we be clear about it? ”No” would clearly mean that we must act. We have to define the problem with relevant arguments and find new better ways to support the student’s learning. To me, ”uncertainty” (or “uncertain” or “uncertain if” etc.) means many different options between, even outside of, yes and no. Furthermore, you could also understand it as ”I don’t know how to respond to this assessment argument”, which would make the teacher sound incompetent. What I’m longing for here are the words that describe how the student’s learning is developing. Osäkert doesn’t really help me as a teacher to be specific with the assessment I give or define the best possible support.

Finally, I can understand the pros of the Swedish assessment model for elementary school. Firstly, it doesn’t categorise students as strongly as the Finnish scale has done, for instance, with girls who got 10 in most subjects (”kympin tytöt”). But what about the division between ihg/ja and osäkert? As the point has seemingly been to prevent comparison among students, I can understand why it’s now more difficult with an unclear assessment model. However, I must say comparing and categorising are natural habits for children. They’ll find a way to do it anyway. Therefore, I think it’s very important how we teach them to read and interpret the assessments – not with respect to their peers but regarding one’s own development. Secondly, the assessment should always be encouraging and it should be clear to the student what he/she can do to improve. In the Swedish model the goal is that everyone reaches ja which can be seen as an encouraging goal. Simply do what is expected and you’ll be fine. But what then? I wonder if a student without inner motivation for learning can or even would aspire for i hög grad if ja is considered to be enough. Since there is no clear scale, I wonder how the assessment encourages one to improve after ja and “climb up”. I think it’s one of the most important aims to turn a student’s outer motivation into inner motivation so that he/she would reach for higher goals, step by step.

Anyway, I guess it just takes some time to get used to a new assessment system especially because I haven’t got much of an experience in different assessment models before.

Read more:

Enkvist, I. 2016. Hur tänkte de i Finland? Stockholm: Svenska Dagbladet. Available: https://www.svd.se/hur-tanker-de-i-finland/av/inger-enkvist

Liiten, M. 2016. Ruotsalaisprofessori ihmettelee, miksi Suomen opetussuunnitelma ”matkii huonosti pärjännyttä Ruotsia” – Opetushallitus: Arvostelu ei perustu tosiasioihin. Helsinki: Helsingin Sanomat. Available: https://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/art-2000002917406.html

The Finnish National Agency for Education. 2014. National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2014. Available: https://www.oph.fi/english/curricula_and_qualifications/basic_education

The Swedish National Agency for Education. 2011. National Curriculum for the compulsory school, pre-school class and the recreation center 2011. (updated version 2016 in Swedish). Available: https://www.skolverket.se/om-skolverket/publikationer/visa-enskild-publikation?_xurl_=http%3A%2F%2Fwww5.skolverket.se%2Fwtpub%2Fws%2Fskolbok%2Fwpubext%2Ftrycksak%2FRecord%3Fk%3D2687


Bonus level

After two months of working as a novice teacher, I noticed that something changed in the way I work. I can easily say I handle the routine, I know what to teach and how and I know how to handle my class. Let’s call it as the basic level of teaching. Mastering the basic level you will easily survive as a substitute teacher. But surviving is not mastering. To reach the next level, you will get to the topic that all the exam books in teacher training are about – differentiation. According to my qualification certificate, I master differentiation on paper. And yet, I find myself spending hours on thinking how to support my students’ learning better. How to apply differentiation and intensified support in practice? And is it something I should think about on weekends?

As a novice teacher who hasn’t specialized in special needs education, I was feeling quite lost with different learning difficulties and behavioral disorders. In the beginning, it just felt too much to take everything into consideration. Therefore, I tried to focus on the general support and surveyed the students’ needs. At that point, it was enough. But as the school year is ending soon and the plans for the next semester need to be done, I suddenly found myself in the middle of the Swedish red-tape jungle. This led me to the classic question: Why weren’t we taught anything about this administrative side of a teacher’s job? How to read a diagnose and how to use that knowledge in teaching? At least in my opinion, it would have been a rather useful course to do before graduating,

The fact is, however, that you cannot close your eyes and pretend that disabilities or misbehavior do not exist. They will still be there when at some point you finally have to open your eyes. Furthermore, they won’t disappear if you don’t react to them somehow. So, did my homework and thought what else I could do to support my students. Not only to help them to learn better but to feel better, too. Perhaps this is the deeper level that makes the difference between the position of a permanent teacher and a supply teacher. You take the long-term responsibility for your students. And maybe even a little bit too much of it. Some might even call this as the occupational disease of a teacher.

Sure, as the classroom teacher it’s mainly my business how the students are doing. Also, my wellbeing at work depends on that. But no, it isn’t worth to worry about the bonus level alone at home on weekend. At least that is not how it should go. What I have learned now is that I cannot leave myself alone with problems that should be solved with multi-professional cooperation. The greatest respect for all special education teachers!



Even though the last time we had a vacation was only a month ago, a break from school life feels once again deserved. To celebrate the last day before the Easter holidays and my comeback from a week-long sick leave, I planned Toimintatorstai (not Maundy Thursday this time but Thursday full of action) for the pupils. The idea was to forget the books for one day. Here are two of my ideas for functional education I introduced on Toimintatorstai.

Action reporting

Like in sports reports, the idea of action reporting is to tell the others what is happening in the video you are watching together. I gathered the pupils to sit in front of the screen so that they could reach each other. There is a microphone (we used a whiteboard eraser) going from pupil to pupil to show whose turn it is to report.

First, we talked about reporting, what it means and how it is like in sports news. We have been practising verbs and substantives in Finnish so I gave them two basic examples: something happens or someone does something. As a teacher, I encourage everybody to say at least one thing that happens or name one thing they see in the video. The video I used was only 7 minutes long. Therefore, we also counted how many seconds can one speak so that everyone gets a turn. This exercise is suitable for both L1 and L2 learners since every student defines his/her own level. My favourite videos for this exercise are Shaun the Sheep episodes which are short enough but full of action to report about.

Shaun the Sheep – Chase

Project Easter Grass

It is a tradition in the schools in Finland to practise planting every Easter with rairuoho, ryegrass. I didn’t know how difficult it would be to find ryegrass in Sweden but since I had already decided I wanted to do this project, I ended up asking a friend to bring some ryegrass seeds all the way from Finland. We planted them already two weeks ago so that they had a good time to grow before Easter. This project combines Finnish (or any other language), Arts, Biology and little bit of Maths as well. It is suitable for all grades.

1. Comics. We started by drawing comics with four square-shaped panels. I had drawn and copied the grids of the right size for them. The topic of the comics was obviously Easter so first, we thought about different characters and events related to Easter. Then the pupils drew one sketch version with pencils and one final version with colourful markers.

2. Puzzle. As planting pots we used milk cartons I had collected from the school’s kitchen. I asked the pupils to measure and cut the cartons so that every side had the same length as the comic panels. We cut the panels separately and glued them in the right order on the milk cartons.

3. Plant. Planting ryegrass is very easy and there are many simple instructions – at least in Finnish – you can find online. For our grass it took one week to sprout and grow. We watered the grass every day with a spray bottle and trim it after one week.

4. Share. On Thursday before taking the Easter grass home the kids were, for once, allowed to use their cellphones in the classroom. The task was to take a photo of each comic panel (4 in total) and send them to me via Snapchat. I had, of course, created a separate teacher account for this task. Another option was to send it from home via email with the help of parents. It worked pretty well and the students liked it! At the same time we also practised (social) media skills when testing different perspectives for the photos and learning how to share pictures privately on Snapchat.

The example I made for the class.

April Fool’s Day

Since the April Fool’s Day is officially today, I tested the students’ sense of humour on Thursday with a little prank. I told them that the principal had decided to test all the 4th-grade students with a concentration test because it has been “so restless and bad behaviour lately”. I had actually printed out a test with ridiculous tasks like “go and knock the door” and “make a hole in the test paper with your pencil”. The point was only to read the first sentence that kindly asked the student to read carefully through the whole text. At the end of the test, it said: “Now that you have read the tasks, turn the paper over and raise your hand.” It was very hard to keep the poker face for those 3 minutes until the first one understood the joke. Fortunately, everyone laughed when I started to recite the Finnish April Fool’s poem.

Aprillia, aprillia, syö silliä, juo kuravettä päälle!

Anyway, now it’s time to enjoy the Easter vacation, which in Sweden means not only the holidays but the whole week off! I cannot complain. It’s a perfect time to relax, travel and reload new energy.

Happy Easter! Glad Påsk! Hyvää pääsiäistä!



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”.



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!