Tag Archives: reflection

Finland Is Making Me Mad, Again

For teachers the summer is a time to take a break and recharge. Many resent us. Many though, are happy when their kids return to us.

I’ve always relished the time and spend the weeks off catching up on household responsibilities. My yard and projects around the house require my attention — something I don’t actually mind as it’s a welcome change of pace.

All of which means I try not to get too involved in what my profession is currently in the midst of — education policy, changes in state standards, the newest and greatest approach to teaching.

I know that this is ignorant. Perhaps poor form of me. I just need some time to be with my family and be able to plan some adventures together.

And then there’s Finland.

I’ve never been. Although it does sound intriguing. It’s beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen.

However its beauty is not what makes me mad.

It’s this constant comparison of their education program versus ours.

I remember “U.S. versus…” conversations in my teacher certification courses almost 15 years ago. The luster of how we stack up against other countries around the world seemingly hadn’t, and still hasn’t, worn off.

Here’s the latest that appeared on my Facebook feed just today. Produced / directed by a fellow who likes to push some buttons. He’s not a favorite of mine, I admit, but I watched it anyway because it’s summertime. And I have some time. And I feel like I need to think about education. And it’s about Finland again.

Do you see what I mean?

I want more time for my students to play.

I like the idea of students being more engaged in their own learning.

I like the idea of teachers being less stressed.

I don’t like state assessment testing either.

What is it with the U.S.?

And just when I’m annoyed enough to wallow in how we’ve got it all wrong, because well, it looks like the United States is yet again behind other nations (#29 the video notes) I happen to look down and see Finnish viewers’ comments.

Viewers noted that the video had it wrong. Homework was indeed a thing that had to be done in Finland. Others mentioned how inaccurate the video is in its entirety.

Hmmmm… more to the story? Yet I clearly remember that this issue must have been a common theme, even 15 years ago.

From my journalism courses in college, I know it’s difficult to present an impartial article — and that’s if one strives to do so. Additionally, there’s only so much space on paper, only so many words allowed by editors in charge of editorial space.

Here are some other Finnish school bits and perspectives I came across.

Global grade: How do U.S. students compare?

So what’s my verdict on whether¬†we really are that far behind our Finnish colleagues?

It is interesting to read about the number of Fulbright applicants interested in Finland seeking solutions to our nation’s educational woes. Seeing how U.S. students compare to Finland’s in various aspects is revealing. Knowing that the Finnish system was once equal to the U.S. yet made a concerted effort to improve forty some years ago is encouraging.

If the comparison was easy to make, we would have surely implemented changes and determined what we “should” be doing in the United States.

There are just too many variables in play.

Regardless though, there’s a lot we should be doing different. A solution to what we’re doing in the classroom needs to be sought out and implemented.

Why a solution?

I believe logic demands that we acknowledge that students being tested at the young age of eight and endure considerable stress learning strategies to “beat the test” seems downright counterintuitive.

How will a child love learning if they’re worried more about getting the answers right than trying out different solutions based on what they already know?

Isn’t it ok to be wrong and not endure a poor grade because a risk was taken?

Isn’t education’s intent to teach students to understand how each learns differently than their peers? To encourage them to solve problems collaboratively? To understand how to both lead and follow?

Isn’t it obvious that sitting all day without end is painful to us all – regardless of age?

Shouldn’t we worry about students enjoying their education? Be interested in their happiness? Seek a happy life?

So solutions are in order.

I challenge you to share your thoughts in the comments answering: How do you think we stack up against Finland?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Encourage Your Students To Pause And Look Within

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Rush, rush, rush.

Did you do what you needed to do and did you do it yesterday? Today’s too late, yesterday was perfect. In fact you really should have foreseen the issue and by the time it was needed, the need should have never occurred because you resolved it.

Really?

Doesn’t that almost sound normal today? Have you heard something similar?

We live in a world in which access to all information is instantaneous. Ask any question, heck, ponder any question and within seconds you’ll have the chance to begin looking through a few million possible answers.

My friends and I were reflecting on years past when one left work on Friday and didn’t need to connect back until Monday morning. Say that out loud now and it sounds like you’re itchin’ to get fired. You must not be interested in keeping that job. So check you email now and respond, yet again, to whatever has just chimed requiring your attention.

Overwhelming.

What we’re not doing is taking some time to think about what’s passed us and what’s ahead. Why did we react a certain way? What worked? What didn’t?

Neither do our students.

They like us, live in a reactive world. Everything around us wants a decision quicker and more definitive than the last time. The bosses boss wanted that answered yesterday. Did their boss want it yesterday too? It’s a cyclical conundrum.

As teachers we are conditioned to deliver instruction our students should be able to internalize within moments. Our day is planned for us, as is our curriculum. Of course when students require to hear it and experience the learning a few times more, we quickly feel as if we’re behind.

In fact now that my SOLs have passed, I find myself at a bit of a loss as to what I should teach these last remaining weeks of school – I started with cursive by the way. I figured they ought to know how to sign their name.

Time has slowed down a bit in my classroom.

Of course about 160 days of instruction has passed since my students arrived on the first day of school.

I’m tired, they’re tired, we’re tired together. Time however is short and we only have so many days left with them in our classroom. A very short time to now lead them to do something that few of us ever do.

Perhaps now it a good time to reflect.

I admit to you that I need to do a better job of building in reflecting time throughout the year, not just at the end. I think I’ll start adding this into my lesson plans now, before the zaniness of next year even begins to overwhelm me.

Until then, here are some activities I’ve had my students do in years past.

  • Write a letter to next year’s class telling them the truth about you as a teacher. I introduce the activity with the promise that no letter shall find itself in the trashcan. All I ask is for honesty.
  • Fold a blank piece of paper into four equal parts. Label each with: what I thought this year would be like, what it really was like, my favorite part of the year, and what I think next year will be like.
  • Write a letter to a favorite teacher they had in the past. Explain what that teacher did to make them a favorite of your student. I then deliver it into that teacher’s mailbox – this always seems to make a teacher’s day.
  • Have your student get in front of the classroom and act out your mannerisms. This is always a lot of fun to see. This one is obviously a reflection activity for the teacher and generates all sorts of stories.
  • Have your students reflect on this past year and what you did as a teacher that was good, negative, and what they would change about the classroom if they could.
  • Similar to the past one, have your students reflect on their own year. What did they like about themselves, what did they do that was something they would rather forget, what did they learn about themselves this year, and what would they like to work on as they enter the next academic year.

So here’s my challenge to you.

When was the last time you took some time to think back on the last few weeks, months, or the year?

Ask yourself.¬†What went well? What didn’t go well?

Now what will you do differently to continue to build on your success?

When you’ve honestly taken some time to think, include your family in the conversation and ask them the same question.

Perhaps this conversation will lead to the exact place you wish you were, before all this reflecting started.

Perhaps the same is true for your students when you ask them to do the same.