Teacher essay: Finland sees kids as ‘our greatest natural resource’

By Linda Davis

Special to The Tribune

Published: July 18, 2014 01:13PM
Updated: July 18, 2014 01:13PM

Editor’s note: Linda Davis, a special education teacher at Hillside Middle School in Salt Lake City, was among 32 Utah educators who recently visited schools in Finland with Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Europe. Read the related story here.

As a middle school teacher of special education for the past 29 years, I was impressed in Finland by the way raising and teaching children are truly communal activities, where everyone is treated as equally as possible.

For example, if a child is struggling in any way, there is a committee of adults ready to come together to intervene and identify ways to provide necessary support and coach that child back to the level needed. One Finnish educator said, “Our children are our greatest natural resource.”

Every one of the educators and administrators I met, no matter their grade level, felt that teaching kids was the most important job there was. They take great pride in what they do. I asked one teacher if any teachers they knew left the profession and they said, “Never!” This made me ask myself, “Why?”

I think there are three reasons for this. First, Finnish teachers clearly feel passionate about what they do. They really love teaching and supporting kids.

In Utah, we have many passionate teachers as well. Despite challenging times of many mandates in education, the teachers at my school are willing to put in long hours because of the passion they feel for educating students. Traveling to Finland has made me more aware of how important it is to always reflect on the passion that led me to be a teacher as I enter each year of school.

Second, teachers in Finland have a great deal of autonomy to determine how they teach. Although they have a national core curriculum, teachers are able to teach the core as they believe it should be taught. They can teach what is most important without constant formal checking and monitoring (testing) that interrupts instruction.

Finland produces some of the top academically performing students on international testing of any place in the world. Theirs is a culture of trust. I believe this kind of trust of the public in teachers is inspiring for teachers and makes them want to live up to that expectation as they educate young minds.

Finally, the educators and parents I spoke to in Finland subscribed to the idea expressed by one principal I met there. He said, “Our vision is to create the best school in the world!”

They have a solid vision for future education of Finnish children. They know as a school where they’ve been, where they are now and where they are headed in the future. They address problems collectively and work together to solve problems using creative techniques, rather than one person trying to decide what to do.

In my school, we can seek for parents and educators to build more collaborative relationships in order to address problems when they happen.

If we believe, like Finland, that our children are our greatest natural resource, it is up to us as educators, parents and a society to look for ways to come together to create globalized classrooms of trust.

My hope, after participating in this teacher institute program with BYU’s Center for the Study of Europe, is that I can take a more global and collective perspective in addressing issues in my own classroom. I plan to do this by creating a curricular project with a teacher from Finland to help open my students’ eyes to other countries and perspectives.

I will also share with my middle school colleagues and district the many things I learned and encourage further discussions that allow us to think in this more global way. I plan on involving parents in cooperative discussions to solve problems, especially when students are struggling.

Finally, I hope to renew a passion and vision at my school and district for teaching, learning and expanding our minds globally to develop our greatest resource…our kids.