Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Professionals

Over the holiday period I've met up with friends who are also teachers and we have been taking about what we have seen as an erosion of the status of teachers as professionals, compared with the status of teachers 30 years ago when we entered the profession.  We talked about the fact that there are many more attractive options for graduates these days - all of which pay significantly more than teachers - and that we had noticed that the teaching profession was becoming more and more "feminine", especially in elementary schools where many men seem to take the quick route to administration.  We discussed the fact that professions with high numbers of women seem to command less respect and less pay than those with high numbers of men.  We talked about the fact that in some countries you needed to have a masters degree in order to teach in the high schools, whereas in other countries the route into teaching has traditionally been through teacher training colleges where teachers are awarded certificates instead of degrees.  We talked about the fact that in some countries 30 years ago only 10% of school leavers attended university as the degrees awarded were all academic, whereas now in the same countries over 50% of school leavers attend universities and bachelors degrees are seen as almost worthless.

Then yesterday I read Thomas Baker's blog about the Finnish education system.  Here the teachers are respected and are rarely evaluated, are encouraged to be creative and to research and adopt new technologies and have the freedom and autonomy to develop their own curriculum.  The students start school later, take fewer classes, spend less time in school each day and rarely have homework or tests. Yet Finnish students out-perform other students around the world in almost every measure - we are told Finland has the best educational system in the world and this has come about over the past 40 years as a result of a national curriculum with a emphasis on creativity, sports, languages, music and the arts, 5 year masters degrees for all teachers and a very high teacher:student ratio (up to 3 teachers per class), and the fact that Finnish students stay in the same class with the same teacher for at least 6 years.

One of the interesting statistics from a YouTube movie embedded into this blog post is that teachers in Finland come from the top 10% of college graduates - teaching is seen as important as becoming a doctor or a lawyer.  An interview with Finland's Minister of Education is included in the blog post.  In this she states:
I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own pupils in schools.

Our educational society is based on trust and cooperation, so when we are doing some testing and evaluations, we don’t use it for controlling [teachers] but for development.  We trust the teachers.
These 2 things, it seems, are key:  trust and respect are the most important things for promoting learning and creating a culture that values education.

Photo Credit:  Custom Graduation Bot by Jenn and Tony Bot  AttributionNoncommercial 

1 comment:

  1. Maggie,
    I couldn't agree more. We need to be looking at the Finnish system to see where we went wrong and where we can move forward. I know so many teachers who are the epitome of professionals, constantly honing and refining their practice, yet they are still seen as the "cute teacher with the apron" who plays with the little kids all day long. Why is that?

    What can we as professionals do to perpetuate this image that the Finnish have perfected? I believe that technology can be the change to help us...if parents and other professionals see us out there, on twitter, on blogs, sharing and connecting around the world then we will be finally seen as the true professionals that we are.

    We have to be out there, share, give lectures, talk, share at conferences, be willing to be on the edge to help the world see how wonderful we are.

    Either that or we should all move to Finland! :)

    Thanks for a great post...