A+ Teachers; Public, Private or Homeschooling

It appears there is a move afoot in some teacher’s unions to get the profession back on track. Joel Klein,  head of the education division of News Corp has written about the need to elevate the teaching field from a fall back profession to one with the stature of doctors and lawyers. This move would require teachers to serve a yearlong apprenticeship before claiming their own classroom, pass entrance exams akin to the bar exams for other professions and earn salaries based on merit and results not tenure. Mr. Klein states that this was the vision thirty years ago of Albert Shanker, the man who was a force in the early teacher’s unions. Mr. Shanker had always been fearful that unionizing would just create collective bargaining and not the educational reforms many wished to see.

The huge strides the Finnish school system has achieved in its international test scores are making the changes to their education system of interest to all educators. Forty years ago they were ranked at the bottom in Europe and have since made many sweeping changes. In Finland teachers come from the top 10% of their college classes, must earn a master’s degree to apply for a job and face stiff competition in the job market. Upon hire the Finnish teacher serves a yearlong apprenticeship and if they pass this program they are required as teacher’s to devote two hours a week to professional development. As great as all of this training and preparation sounds, I believe the other innovations in the Finnish education system are the larger part of its success story. Play and being outdoors is known to boost creativity and learning; to that end Finnish schools have a recess period for every 40 minutes of instruction. Also teachers are permitted to try innovative teaching methods, as long as curriculum standards are met. Finnish teacher’s may also collaborate freely with students to help them with learning challenges and to encourage them to share what they learn.

What do the guidelines for Finnish teacher’s sound like? To me they have worked to take the great qualities of homeschooling, which are collaboration with the individual student to set learning objectives and recognition that not all learning has to take place in a classroom, and let their teachers work to integrate them into a public school system. After forty years of working through this model, the success speaks for itself. Does this mean homeschooling families should be required to have degrees to function? Absolutely not; what it does mean is that homeschooling families should be heartened to see an institutional setting corroborate what they have already found works. I believe the strict educational standards in Finland assure that dedicated and creative people become teachers. This is already true of those who follow the path of homeschooling and stay abreast of the individual needs of their children. As a parent and teacher, we should be constantly striving to model professional development by continuing to learn new topics and skills daily. This desire to learn becomes the key to success in work and in life.

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