A U.S. Teacher in Finland: Teaching Less, Collaborating More
Teaching is burdensome. Some of its greatest challenges exist beyond the classroom walls. Poverty. Broken families. Domestic violence. The list continues.
Teachers who seek to care for their students need to be cared for, too. Without sufficient support, teachers burn out. Some even leave the profession altogether.
As an American teacher now in a Finnish public school, I'm witnessing and experiencing meaningful professional support. A close look at my current teaching schedule reveals two important sources of preventive care.
When I received my timetable in early August, I was dumbstruck. As a 5th grade classroom teacher, I would be contracted for 24 hours of teaching each week. What's more is that there would be a built-in break of 15 minutes every lesson. Factor in the breaks and I would only be spending 18 hours in the classroom each week. On average, that's less than four hours of actual teaching time every day. This is a typical teaching load in Finland.
At my previous school in the U.S., I had about 5 ½ hours of instructional time every day. That's a total of 27 ½ hours of time in the classroom each week, which is nearly 10 hours more than I spend teaching in Finland.
I was often exhausted when I returned from school in the States. In Finland, I'm finding more time to pace myself, reflect, communicate with parents, and plan lessons. I also have more time to meet with students and colleagues.
Once I got over the initial shock of teaching a lot less each week, I glanced back at my schedule and made another discovery. Most of the teaching blocks listed the names of two teachers. In other words, I would be working with another teacher more often than I would be on my own.
Twice each week I'm receiving in-class support from the special-needs teacher and the 6th grade classroom teacher. If I need more help, I can request the support of my school's resource teachers. These are full-time, credentialed teachers who are assigned to the classrooms with the greatest needs.
Not only do I receive help from others, but I also provide support, too. Each week, I'm assisting teachers in the 1st and 6th grades. Most often, I'm planning and teaching lessons with colleagues in the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 9th grades.
In the U.S., I rarely had blocks of scheduled time to work with my American colleagues. Also, there weren't enough breaks throughout each day to accommodate collaboration.
In Finland, I'm learning that more time with colleagues has lots of benefits. For example, it's much easier to differentiate instruction and provide small group instruction.
Lessons for the U.S.
Teachers are faced with a host of diverse challenges every single day. Students need teachers who can care for them. Unfortunately, this is not possible unless teachers get the support they truly need.
In Finland, teachers teach less and have lots of opportunities to work with colleagues. Could these be important lessons for the United States?
Tim Walker is an American teacher who's in his first year of teaching in Finland. He's also a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory. Follow his journey on Twitter (@timdwalk) and his blog Taught by Finland.