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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teacher Education in Finland: What are Finnish Teachers Made Of?

Merja Paksuniemi

University lecturer, University of Lapland, Finland
Tampere University of Technology, Finland

Editor's Note: Satu Uusiautti, Ph.D., contributed to this post. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki, and works as a specialist at University of Lapland, and as a post-doctoral researcher in the project Love-Based Leadership -- Interdisciplinary Approach. Another contributor to this blog post, Kaarina Määttä, Ph.D., is a professor of educational psychology at the Faculty of Education, University of Lapland, and also the university's deputy vice-chancellor. She has written hundreds of articles and dozens of textbooks. The three authors' forthcoming book, What Are Finnish Teachers Made Of? A Glance at Teacher Education in Finland Yesterday and Today, examines historical and modern teacher training in Finland, a country that many acknowledge as having the most successful K-12 schools in the world.

Background

The foundation of Finland's teacher training model was laid in the early 1920s when two notable plans were finished: the Act on Compulsory Education that came into effect in 1921, and a plan for the development of teacher training that was completed in 1922. These changes were preceded by Finland becoming independent from Russia in 1917.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the first primary school teacher colleges were located in southern Finland, and it was difficult to hire qualified teachers in northern Finland. In response to this need, new teacher training colleges were established, the northernmost situated in Tornio.

Teachers Trained to Model Character

The purpose of teacher training was to educate model citizens who would teach and civilize the Finnish people and strengthen the young country's national identity. In practice, this meant that teaching should encourage interest in various activities that would develop citizens' diligence and excite students to adopt hobbies and develop strong character. Another common goal was to arouse regionalism that would invoke a love of country among pupils. Religion, literature and history were mainstays of the classroom. Together, these subjects formed the cultural-historical foundation on which teaching was progressively built. The aim of instruction was to improve citizens' morality and Christianity. A teacher was clearly the head of the classroom, and his or her role as a model citizen was important. Teachers were also expected to act as model citizens during their free time. As A. Salmela writes in The Basics of Ethics (p.153):

The teacher's participation in the local spiritual occasions, temperance and juvenile work, and economic hobbies offers, in many ways, the best chance to create connection of appreciation and sympathy between the home and school.

Rigorous Entrance Requirements and Codes of Conduct

Individuals seeking to study at the teacher training colleges in Finland participated in an entrance test that lasted several days. Only the finest candidates were selected as prospective teachers. The test included medical examinations, interviews and exams on teaching. Teacher colleges' selection methods were under constant review in order to find the best among excellent applicants.

After acceptance into the teaching college, students were allowed to carry on with their studies only if they maintained successful study habits and acted irreproachably. Students' behavior was carefully monitored, not only at the college but also during free time. For example, going to a dance club or smoking was strongly forbidden for these prospective model citizens. Likewise, students were expected to adopt discreet clothing styles and follow strict dating rules. Anyone not meeting those requirements was expelled.

While the code of conduct is not as strict today, only one in ten of all applicants are selected for teacher training. Their demanding training is practical as well as research-based, and requires that talent, engagement and multiple skills must be demonstrated by both teacher educators and student teachers. Student teachers graduate as Masters of Education.

Partly because of these rigorous expectations, the teaching profession is still universally respected in Finland, and a teaching position is a desirable career, because classroom professionals are acknowledged as a force of enlightenment for the whole nation.

Indeed, Finnish students have performed well, as recent international comparisons have shown. Credit for this success belongs mostly to our good teachers and teacher training system. We also credit the Finnish educational system for supporting the idea that K-12 students have the right to learn, regardless of location, economic or social background, gender, age or abilities.

Current Challenges

Although teaching remains a popular and prestigious occupation in Finland, acknowledged for its creativity and famous for students' high scores on achievement tests, Finland's education system still struggles with several dilemmas. Current trends, such as internationalization and multiculturalism, require that instructors take on new kinds of societal responsibilities and an active role as architects of the future.

This challenge is addressed by constantly improving teacher training. Courses in multiculturalism and tolerance have been added, and multi-professional collaboration has become part of teacher education and teachers' compulsory in-service training. In addition, the Finnish National Board of Education provides complimentary courses on these topics in the form of teachers' in-service education.

An important part of Finnish teachers' work is interacting with pupils, parents, teacher colleagues and community stakeholders -- business partners, for example. Therefore, preparing educators' public personalities and teaching styles is as important as developing their classroom skills. Because the ability to build a home-school network that supports learning is critical, teachers are especially prized for their cultural and social dexterity.

The important work and responsibilities that weighed on educators in the 20th century still concern today's teachers. But by training future educators to continuously inspire students to succeed, helping prospective teachers view curriculum from students’ perspectives, and assisting students as they negotiate critical points in various disciplines, the teacher training methods in Finland continue to meet the needs of the next generation of students.

Notes

Salmela, A. (1931). Etiikan alkeet. Oppikirja seminaareja ja yksinopiskelijoita varten [The Basics of Ethics: A Textbook for Colleges and Individual Learners]. Porvoo: WSOY.

Merja Paksuniemi

University lecturer, University of Lapland, Finland
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