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.
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.
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! 😉