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




After a long break from doing something you enjoy, it might feel exhausting to even think about starting it again. You want to give up with the whole thing because you don’t know where to start or what’s the point anyway. That’s how I was feeling about writing during last semester. I let my free time to be taken over by stress from work. I worked overtime for weeks and struggled with cases that felt impossible to solve. I felt ready to retire after the first year of working as a class teacher.

As my New Year’s Revolution, I promised to take a break from hurrying. Hurrying with studies, work or generally with life seems to be today’s trend which I, apparently, follow easily without even noticing. Easier said than done – we have nearly 30 topics in our teaching plan for this semester… Is it after all in my own hands to keep what I promised?

Stress is a topic that everyone in the world of education is talking about, but not so many seem to have the energy to change the situation. In Finland and Sweden, the teachers feel that the society is expecting too much from them, that the workload is getting too big to manage alone. Even a mentor teacher shouldn’t take everything on his/her shoulders without proper resources and the multi-professional cooperation, for example when it’s about learning disabilities or a student’s health. However, finding the resources and the right kind of multi-professional network, right services and experts who provide the support you are looking for, are challenges when you’re still learning how the system works in general.

Collaboration has helped me to manage the workload. I feel less alone with the professional challenges I face with my class when I can discuss them with other experts. It also feels great when a more experienced colleague wants not only to listen but to solve the problem together with you. No wonder Finland has taken the benefits of team teaching seriously.

Despite the tiredness, I was happy to extend my contract until midsummer, knowing that I’d do the whole academic year with the class who I already know and who feel like my own. I’m pretty excited to see what this semester holds when 1) the political life in Sweden is facing a new beginning, 2) school digitalisation is trying to go hand in hand with GDPR and 3) my 5th graders are reaching puberty. These five months help me to limit my workload and be realistic with it.  What I cannot do after the mandataries, will simply be left undone by me. Maybe someone else will take care of it after me, maybe nobody will remember it at all. Nåja, det ordnar sig!


One way to improve the students (as well as my own) well-being is to do a short workout every morning. Their favourite exercise is to do the wall sit for 30 seconds. According to the students, the goal is to have the strongest leg muscles in the school and to win a hurdling race.



Volunteering as a teacher in Cambodia

In the teacher education in Finland, we have a joke that the three main reasons to become a teacher are June, July and August. I have to admit it feels pretty amazing to have such a long summer vacation to truly reset to zero and charge again. I felt like I wanted to try something new. Maybe even do something useful while enjoying my first long summer vacation.

I’ve had this dream to volunteer as a teacher somewhere abroad, so I booked a trip to Asia for 6 weeks and started to look for volunteering jobs on Workaway. Teaching English and IT in Asia sounded like a good choice, so I contacted a small private school called Angkor Legacy Academy in Lolei Village, Cambodia.

I arrived to Lolei late in the evening on Saturday the 30th July and stayed for 10 days. The village is located 15km from the city of Siem Reap. The school provides free English classes at 3 different levels from Monday to Friday for the children in Lolei, aged 5-12. Sovannarith, the founder of the school, also teaches Chinese in the evenings. Luckily, he gets many volunteers year around to help him with the English classes because he is also running a food programme in Lolei to help the people living in poverty. In addition, Sovannarith wants to start computer classes for the children once the school gets a better internet connection and more computers. The local primary schools don’t teach English or computer skills, which are key subjects to get a job and break out of poverty. Find out more about Lolei village and Angkor Legacy Academy (ALA) here.

Angkor Legacy Academy in Lolei Village, Cambodia.

In her blog, Melody from California describes the school, the village life and the work of volunteer teachers as I also find it a year later. You will find her post about volunteering in Lolei here. The muddy rural roads were flooding from heavy rain and drying again, leaving deep tracks on the road. On my first day, we tried to fix the road by digging and filling in the potholes together with Sovannarith, the village kids and the other volunteers to make it more even, and therefore more safe for motorbikes and bicycles. It was amazing to see how eager the kids were to help with sumi hard work even when it started to rain. They knew how to make the most out of it by bathing in the mud puddles!

Fixing a road in Lolei.

Monday was the first day as a volunteer teacher. Since we were altogether six volunteers, three per class, it was easy to split the groups and organise teaching so that everyone gets support with their learning. At the beginning, I found it challenging to get the students’ attention because we didn’t speak the same language. However, I must say I’ve never seen such motivated students to learn English than the level 3 groups (age 10-12). Already after the first day, I realised how good their comprehension was even though we were still studying the basics.

As the volunteers come and go all the time, the students aren’t used to any classroom routines, except saying good morning to the teacher. However, even in 6 days of teaching it was possible to create some small routines to calm down the class and make sure they have a peaceful learning environment. We started with raising our hand when we want to share something and respecting the others by listening what they want to say. They also really enjoyed playing games and singing songs in English. Moving on to a next exercise by clapping rhythms or playing a little game was an effective way to catch their attention. Having these little playful exercises as part of the lesson plan seemed to make a big difference as well to their learning, as these children are used to more formal school culture.

One of the three classrooms at ALA.
Learning vocabulary by drawing together.

With level 3 students I got to try a little bit of programming. As I think programming is more than just learning codes, I wanted to introduce digital thinking to these children. The goal was to understand how you can give orders to the computer by using codes. Since we only had one day for programming, we split the class so that I took two students at a time to play a coding game while the others were learning the directions and orientating in English with the other two volunteers. We played Programming with Harvester, where you practice some basic programming tools like different functions and loops. The students loved it! They got the idea very quickly and were able to follow my instructions in English. I was happy to see so many enthusiastic faces when they cracked the code! ”Good job!” *high five*

Programming with code.org at ALA.

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!