When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools
They find that they have less autonomy and an overly rigid school day.
“I have been very tired—more tired and confused than I have ever been in my life,” Kristiina Chartouni, a veteran Finnish educator who began teaching American high-school students this autumn, said in an email. “I am supposedly doing what I love, but I don't recognize this profession as the one that I fell in love with in Finland.”
Chartouni, who is a Canadian citizen through marriage, moved from Finland to Florida with her family in 2014, due in part to her husband’s employment situation. After struggling to maintain an income and ultimately dropping out of an ESL teacher-training program, a school in Tennessee contacted her this past spring about a job opening. Shortly thereafter, Chartouni had the equivalent of a full-time teaching load as a foreign-language teacher at two public high schools in the Volunteer State, and her Finnish-Canadian family moved again. (Chartouni holds a master’s degree in foreign-language teaching from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä.)
In Tennessee, Chartouni has encountered a different teaching environment from the one she was used to in her Nordic homeland—one in which she feels like she’s “under a microscope.” She’s adjusting to relatively frequent observations and evaluations of her teaching, something she never experienced in her home country. (A principal or an administrator in Finland, Chartouni noted, may briefly observe a teacher’s lesson, but not on a regular basis.)
Already this autumn, she’s had a couple of visitors in her American classroom: a representative of a nearby university, where she’s completing studies to receive a local teaching license, and her “professional learning community” coach. A district administrator will come to visit her classroom, too. According to Chartouni, these three evaluators will make a few unexpected visits throughout this school year.
Chartouni misses that feeling of being trusted as a professional in Finland. There, after receiving her teaching timetable at the start of each school year, she would be given the freedom to prepare curriculum-aligned lessons, which matched her preferences and teaching style. “I wanted to do my best all the time,” she said, “because they trusted my skills and abilities.” I encountered something similar when I moved to Finland from the U.S., where I started my teaching career.
According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, teacher autonomy is positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention. When Finland's Teachers Work in America’s Schools - The Atlantic: