Weeks 1-2

Back to writing in English as it’s time to start a new chapter in EduExploring. I returned to Melbourne after a short trip to Vietnam. Some might also call that as “doing a visa run” as I came back with the working holiday visa (WHV) in my pocket. I got to change the backpacking mode to job-seeking mode and once again, migrate to a new country. This time to Australia, making a long-term dream to come true. Let’s restart the “mamu” (immigrant in Finnish) and dive into a new education system, shall we? 

After all, applying for the 12 months’ WHV and settling in Australia wasn’t a difficult decision to make. I had already thought about working here several times before but always ended up moving to Sweden instead. My WHV was granted in less than an hour once I sent the application from Vietnam. Next step was to figure out, what i could do as a qualified teacher in Australia.

Before returning to Melbourne, I had contacted an agency who connects teachers and schools in order to arrange casual relief teaching and short-term substitutions. With their guidance, I learned that if I wanted to work as a teacher in Australia, the way to get there wouldn’t be the easiest. Firstly, I need to take care of all the basic immigration documents such as the tax file number (TFN) and medicare. Secondly, I need to registrate with the Victorian institute of teaching (VIT) in order to be qualify for any teacher positions.

Starting with easy ones, I managed to get both TFN and medicare during the first week. Also, the working with children check (WWCC), which is needed for the teacher registration, was pretty easy to apply. The only thing you have to do, is to pay the bill and go to a post office to get your picture taken for the WWCC card. The WWCC authorities will scan through your criminal history and provide the necessary authorisation. After getting the TFN, I was finally able to apply for an Australian bank account. See, how smoothly the way takes me step by step through the Australian red tape jungle? No, still not done here. After filling in the application for the bank account, I need to go back to the post office to show my face again and prove that I’m a real person.

And what about the teaching registration then? What I can tell you so far, is that we are going to get even deeper to the jungle. As a qualified primary school teacher with a Master’s degree in Education from Finland you would proudly think that it’s easy to get a teaching job wherever. Nope, doesn’t guarantee that! After filling in, once again, another application, I received an email with a long list of required documents that should first, be translated and then, certified by the Victorian authorities. Additionally, I was asked to complete a language test with good marks to show that I am able to teach in English. And finally, they needed to receive my criminal history from both Finland and Sweden. But wait, didn’t WWCC already do that for me? Yes, but that’s not enough. Why not to do the same thing twice and make people pay extra for that…

When I was looking for the VIT documents through my files, I started counting the total bill of the migration process for a non-native English speaking teacher. Luckily, when I went to the VIT office in Melbourne to ask about translation and certification, they accepted my Master’s and Bachelor’s transcripts and identification documents straight away. Therefore, neither translating nor certifying is needed so far which cut down the bill a little bit. This is how it looks at the moment:

  • Working Holiday Visa 485 AUD
  • Medicare (we shall see)
  • Tax File Number 0 AUD (at least paying taxes is something you can do for free…)
  • Working With Children Check 126.50 AUD
  • Language test 395 AUD (I chose a test called ISLPR “International Second Language Proficiency Rating)
  • Nationally coordinated Criminal History (NCCH) form Finland 12€
  • Nationally coordinated Criminal History from Sweden 225kr
  • International Driving Licence 42€

So yeah, you might consider moving to Australia to be more like an expense rather than a way to become rich.

While I’m still waiting for the criminal history checks from both Finland and Sweden to reach Victorian authorities, I’m looking for an education-related job where you don’t need the VIT registration, like for instance, teaching assistant or school administration officer jobs. Unfortunately, almost every open position I’ve found so far seems to require a specified degree (well, just like in Finland…). Nevertheless, the teaching agency offered me a job that didn’t require the VIT registration. The job title was called “School Crossing Supervisor”, aka meaning someone who walks school kids across a street before and after school. Mmm… Yeah… That’s exactly what I thought I could do with my Master’s degree in Education in Australia. Cheers mate!

Above all, when moving to another country, prepare yourself to explain who you are and what you are qualified for. The fact that you’ve got a degree in higher education doesn’t mean that it’ll automatically be recognized and accredited in the new country. I do understand, however, that it’s important to make sure that the teachers trained overseas can do the same as their local colleagues. But then again, all the teachers in Finland are required to have a Master’s degree in Education (M.Ed.) whereas in Australia, most of the teachers only have a Bachelor’s degree. To become a teacher in Australia, you can either do a four years’ B.Ed. or a three years B.Ed. and one year M.Ed. That is to say, Finnish teachers are generally over-qualified here. Fingers crossed that it’ll help me to get a job soon!

Taking my shoes off now to make a proper stop and look for new adventures in Melbourne.

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