Why is Finnish teacher education excellent? Teacher training schools provide one explanation

To work as a qualified teacher in Finland, university students practice in a teacher training school during their studies. The Master’s Degree includes 20 credits of training for both class teachers and subject teachers.

When Sirkku Myllyntausta started her career as a teacher 41 years ago, she had no idea she would be responsible for teacher training at the University of Helsinki.

Sirkku Myllyntausta currently works as Lecturer and Teacher Training Coordinator in the Viikki Teacher Training School in Helsinki. 

She is in charge of all the class teacher trainees who come to the school during their compulsory trainee periods.

– We teach trainees to make professional judgements and pedagogical decisions, Sirkku Myllyntausta says.

The teacher training schools in Finland can be compared to university teaching hospitals for medical students. The teacher’s profession is highly respected in Finland. A teacher is an expert, comparable to an engineer, lawyer or a medical doctor.

Meaningful learning and equality in school

Enhancing pupils’ eagerness to learn, fostering a spirit of equality in school, and how to achieve positive learning results are topics that Sirkku Myllyntausta discusses with Karoliina Salonen, a young class teacher trainee, who is about to teach a class in a few minutes.

In many countries, a teacher trainee would be sitting and observing the work in the back of the class. Not in Finland.

– The teacher trainees are really engaged and work hands-on from day one. Karoliina nails it down, Sirkku Myllyntausta says. The profession is demanding and, at times, it can be very intense. You need to use a lot of personal empathy. You also have to be able to draw the line and know when to hand a pupil over to other professionals, such as speech therapists or psychologists, she explains.

Even though the teacher training period in both class and subject teacher trainings is only 20 credits, out of a the 300-credit Master’s degree in total, it really is meaningful and important for the students. The guided teacher training periods offer each student a possibility to try out in practice everything they have learnt during their studies. Paramount in teacher training is combining theory and practice.

– The role of the guiding teacher at the teacher training school is of great importance, because it enables the student to reflect upon her own development. The main idea behind teacher training practices is to help the students develop as teachers in many different ways, Karoliina Salonen explains.

Highly qualified teachers

Although the underlying ideas are not new to most school systems in the world, the Finnish schools benefit from a small gap between the top schools and the lowest-performing schools, which is one of the narrowest in the world. Difficulties with reading and writing are diagnosed at an early stage and special support is provided to pupils. The fact that Finland educates early education teachers and teachers in research universities also adds prestige.

The Finnish school system offers equal opportunities to all pupils as basic education is free of charge. Teachers enjoy wide autonomy and have flexibility to organize their own teaching. Pupils profit from a national curriculum, highly qualified and academic teachers as well as research-based teaching. Both class teachers and subject teachers are required to have a Master’s Degree. The teaching and guidance staff within day-care centres generally have Bachelor’s degrees.

Face to face, knee to knee

Karoliina Salonen has planned the lesson for her multidisciplinary teacher training period carefully. She has written a plan and created different concrete exercises for the 5th graders (11 years old). She uses different seating arrangements in the class, e.g., pupils will be sitting close to each other in a circle when they focus on listening and talking. The method is just one example, which helps pupils to interact and to communicate with each other. The new curriculum contains skills like these.

– The purpose of the lesson is also to teach the pupils how it is possible to recognize their own learning. They will learn to speak and listen to each other. The pupils will be able use the same techniques for the upcoming history lesson.
I have used approximately twice the amount of time to plan the lesson compared to the 45 minutes the actual lesson lasts. But this is how it is until you get a true routine and more experience, Karoliina Salonen explains.

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The teacher training schools in Finland are research-based

As the Viikki Teacher Training school is a part of the Faculty of Educational Sciences, the school works in close cooperation with researchers at the university. The school has four tasks: basic education, teacher traineeship, participating in research and further education for teachers.

– In daily life of the school, this can be seen in that we develop education continuously, says Rector Reijo Honkanen.

Everybody gains, and above all pupils, who are in the centre of our work. We also offer further education to teachers in Finland and internationally, Reijo Honkanen concludes.

The Viikki Teacher Training School dates back to 1869. It started as a girls’ school in Helsinki and women began to have a channel to university studies in the 19th century. Even by international standards, this was exceptionally early. The school celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.