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assessment, instruction, professional development, teacher preparation, Teacher Reflection

The International Gap Unearthed

Finland has long been on the international radar as having the most well prepared teachers and with that high international student achievement. The question of “What are they doing in Finland?” has been on the radar for educators in the United States for over the past decade.

But a recent article by the Atlantic “When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools” brought to light some much needed qualitative research that goes beyond standardized achievement results and quantitative statistics.  This article shared an actual account of what Finnish teachers experience when they come to American schools to teach.

The Finnish teachers in this interview are close to experiencing teacher burn-out in the US, something they may not have experienced in their homeland.  What attributes to this feeling of burn-out is the lack of autonomy, district mandates and busy scheduling they have as US teachers.

As one teacher shared “I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking.”

How do we put the love of teaching back into the profession, the joy of learning back to the students and the time and autonomy teachers need back into the school day so everyone can thrive?


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


2 thoughts on “The International Gap Unearthed

  1. One comment that struck me was that a 15 minute break is built into each hour in Finland. Another thought is that in an article I read last year, it seemed that quite a lot of time was spent outdoors for all students in Finland. That, with their culture of professional trust and high expectations for teachers before entering the classroom, seems to be quite different from the US.
    2 December, 12016 HE


    Posted by ShiraDest | December 2, 2016, 6:23 pm
  2. As a teacher candidate at the end of my credential program and having completed a semester of student teaching, I find the featured article to be thought-provoking, but perhaps not in a productive way. With respect to autonomy, my limited experience in the classroom is at odds with the anecdotal accounts of the three Finnish teachers cited in the article. In terms of adding to the discourse on improving the vast, complex, and diverse educational system in the United States, I found the article to be scattered and weak on support.

    At the California middle school where I am doing my student teaching, it would appear that teachers have a considerable amount of autonomy. At the high school where I taught last year, teachers of classes designed for English language learners had near full autonomy over developing and implementing their courses. In some cases this worked to the students’ benefit, in other cases not at all. The article itself cites a study that states that nearly three-fourths of U.S. public school teachers feel they have moderate or greater autonomy in the classroom.

    According to the same study, the areas where teachers feel they have least autonomy are “‘selecting textbooks and other classroom materials’ and ‘selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught.’” I don’t understand how this is somehow undesirable. We have been educating students for many decades–millions of them. We’ve done countless studies on every aspect of that educational process. Does it not stand to reason that certain textbooks, materials, content, topics, and skills could be identified as being superior? It has often struck me as odd that, with all the research we have done and with all the data we have amassed, we are still providing new teachers with what amounts to a cursory education in the art of teaching and then turning them loose to reinvent the wheel.

    The lead of the article appears to have been buried at the end. Marc Tucker, the president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, instructs, “the countries that give [teachers] more autonomy successfully are countries that have made an enormous investment in changing the pool from which they are selecting their teachers, then they make a much bigger investment than we do in the education of their future teachers, then they make a much bigger investment in the support of those teachers once they become teachers. If you don’t do all those things, and all you do is give more autonomy to teachers, watch out.”

    Was there ever a Golden Age of American Education, an age of love and joy and abundant time, an age that we can somehow go back to? Could it be that we have turned our educational system into a swamp of competing interests that have mired our greatness? Tucker’s analysis suggests something perhaps much more profound and intractable: the lack of a cultural value that begets an “enormous investment” in education.

    Do we lack the societal will to make the necessary investment in a quality education for all of our children? Perhaps. On the other hand, one must ask: Is our system all that bad? Has it not educated generations of innovators who, for better or for worse, have lit our homes, made human flight commonplace, put a person on the moon, decoded the human genome, and built out an information infrastructure that has connected billions of people around the world?

    We are a nation of overstrivers endlessly tinkering with an aim to improve upon what we have. In the meantime, we find ways to make do. I contend that, in our current system of education, there is no shortage of teachers who love their profession, students who derive great joy in learning, and ample time to create and to thrive. More or less autonomy likely will have little impact on that.


    Posted by William Nelsen | December 20, 2016, 9:14 am

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