Can America Teach Like Finland?

The teacher community recently came together on social media (with the hashtags #readlikeateacher and #teachlikefinland) over Timothy Walker’s Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful ClassroomsHe writes about his experience teaching first in the United States and then in Finland.

The premise of the book is that Finland outranks every country in the world in student performance on reading, math, and science as measured by the PISA assessment. A look into the classrooms shows that learning is joyful and teachers are relaxed. So how do they do it?

Overall, the ideas in this book weren’t very groundbreaking or revolutionary. Finland doesn’t use much in the way of expensive technology or trendy educational programs. But there are some real differences. Teaching is prestigious in Finland: teachers have to have masters degrees, and entrance into teacher preparation programs is selective. Teachers get good pay and they have good working conditions. There is less emphasis on “accountability” and more emphasis on responsibility. Teachers are trusted to use their expert content knowledge to make good instructional choices. They make their own assessments and don’t have to worry about annual high-stakes tests.

Four things I truly wish America would adopt:

  1. Principals in Finland generally teach a few classes. I would love to see that at my school! As soon as administrators leave the classroom it’s like they forget the realities of teaching.
  2. The school day is shorter with less instructional time throughout the week. By the end of the school day here, we’re all burnt out anyways. Less is more.
  3. Teachers and students get fifteen minute breaks each hour. This would do a lot to help morale and probably improve focus.
  4. Walker writes about how Finland emphasizes “working to live” and not “living to work.” There is no expectation that teachers will arrive early or stay late, and when they’re on vacation, they actually disengage from work. When will American teachers get on board with this?!

The book didn’t dwell on the fact that there are no private or religious schools in Finland, but I think that makes a difference. I wonder what American schools would be like if everyone bought into public education. In fact, the author has stated in an interview, “after teaching and living in Finland…the glaring weakness in American education is, in fact, a basic matter of inaccessibility: too many kids in America lack access to decent schools.” Through my work in low income school districts, I know this to be the case.

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For more great teacher reads, look up the hashtag #readlikeateacher on Instagram and join the conversation! I find Nordic attitudes very compelling, so next you’ll find me reading The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

Have you read Teach Like Finland? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Can America Teach Like Finland?

  1. Just read this. Some good take-always from it. But, in fact, Finland’s PISA scores have dropped precipitously. My province, Alaberta, far outranks Finland now. We are second in the world in Science, third in reading and 12th in Math. oir educational system is much like Finland’s in respect to a developmentally appropriate curriculum, limited standardized testing, good pay for teachers, emphasis on educating the whole child, etc. But the relaxed approach of Finnish teachers ( minimal time spent prepping, shorter days, etc) May indeed by causing their current decline.

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  2. Something NEEDS to change in America. I actually left teaching (well, seven years of teaching and then a year of admin work) when my son was born three school years ago. I don’t know if I can go back. Yet I feel like I NEED to. I want to make a difference. I want to see change. But I have no idea how to do it. My husband is still a 7-12 administrator (who teaches 1-2 classes per semester as well), so I keep up with the latest. But things are getting crazy. Our small town of 800, with a school of 250 in K-12 just had a gun threat last week. Just Sunday the next community over (1500 people) had one. What is happening?!?! 😦 😥

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