My home is my dissertation

Reijo Honkanen, principal of the upper secondary school in the Viikki Teacher Training School, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the school and his own career, spanning nearly 38 years.

It was partly by coincidence that Reijo Honkanen ended up in the field of education. His intention was to become a civil engineer, but substitute teacher gigs during his studies got him interested in teaching. In the end, Honkanen became a teacher of mathematical subjects. In 1981 he began working at the Teacher Training School II, as the school was then known.

The name and location of his school have changed, but Honkanen himself has remained a constant. These days, he is the principal of the upper secondary school in the Viikki Teacher Training School, one of the ten training schools in Finland and operating under the auspices of the University of Helsinki.

Every term, some 150 subject teacher students and 100 class teacher students train in the school, observing the work conducted by teachers, planning their own classes together with the teachers and receiving related feedback.

Teacher students add another dimension to school work for both teachers and pupils.

“Consider what it would feel like to have a group of students observing your work intently. I see it as one more reason why our teachers prepare and carry out their classes even more carefully than usual,” Honkanen says.

He is visibly proud of his school and its teachers and pupils. In the autumn, Honkanen will have served for 38 years at the institution where two of his three children also went to school. Come December, it will be time for this principal to retire.

Before that, the Viikki Teacher Training School will celebrate. This spring is its 150th anniversary, and the festivities will include a symposium, pupil events, an exhibition, a history of the school and a grand function to be held in Finlandia Hall.

Feeding the multitude

For the five past years, Honkanen has no longer found the time to teach, as administrative duties have soaked up all of his hours. Teaching is something that he misses, but Honkanen’s duties as a supervisor of tutor activities have preserved a connection to the pupils. The door to his office usually remains open for pupils to have the opportunity to come and talk about their concerns.

The principal is known for his home-baked rye bread, made from an old rye starter and occasionally served to teachers and pupils. Honkanen mentions another interest of his, winter fishing, and shows a photograph of a seven-kilo pike he caught the previous weekend, almost the height of his six-year-old grandchild standing next to the catch.

In winter, Honkanen skis approximately a thousand kilometres and also holds a ski school for his three grandchildren. As for commuting, he relies on his bicycle year round.

Honkanen’s zeal for construction has not dried up either. Over the years, he has renovated a holiday home in Mäntyharju, eastern Finland, while in 2000 he finished a grand project, a semi-detached house built together with another family in Suutarila, a suburb of Helsinki. That is where the Honkanen family still lives.

“My wife noted that the house was my dissertation,” Honkanen chuckles.

Honkanen had dreams of postgraduate studies, but work kept him busy after the house was finished. In 2003, the school relocated to the new, shared facilities in Viikki. Selling the move to teachers who had become attached to the previous location in Haaga was not easy. And yet, it was satisfying to see everything work after the move. The new school seemed like a great opportunity.

Even if the principal never got round to pursuing postgraduate studies, many of the school’s teachers are doctoral graduates. Many of them have also authored textbooks. The duties of teacher training schools also include research, experimentation and development activities, as well as continuing education.

“For the benefit of pupils, we are investing in modern teaching methods. This has given me plenty of interesting years in the profession.”

The article was originally published in Finnish in the 02/19 issue of Yliopistolainen magazine.