Why teaching about marginal issues matters?

Many of us have been taught deeply about important historical events, about times when our country faced a moment of crisis. In the case of Finland, such instance is probably best known as the Winter War (1939—1940). While those struggles should not be forgotten or be left out from the curriculum, there are also other historical themes which could be taught to pupils more in depth.

It’s eventually a choice what we teach and how. A constant debate exists how much emphasis is to be put on certain topics and how the ever-present lack of time should be handled in teaching. Yet, I argue that marginal issues concerning for instance ethnical minorities could be addressed better through teaching. After all, we teach since we want to create awareness and improve critical thinking, not just reproduce lessons exactly the same way as was taught earlier.

Further, marginal issues should be more present during school lessons, because:

  • Today’s marginal issues could be tomorrow’s majority. During European history several natural scientific theories were put in margin due to the fact they didn’t fit into catholic church’s agenda.
  • It gives opportunities to explore new fields. Not everything has yet been researched and pupils should be encouraged to enter topics which aren’t mainstream.
  • They expand awareness. Teaching ultimately creates awareness and it’s our job to prepare pupils with better cognitive skills. Pupils learn to inspect a phenomenon through multiple angles.
  • They offer means to handle new knowledge. Pupils face new knowledge currently at the greatest speed ever. Handling and filtering incoming data is crucial. We don’t want anyone to feel powerless amidst information flow and that they can’t have an influence.
  • That’s a way to present pupils opportunities of discovery. The joy of making new findings and connecting them to earlier lessons is important for school motivation. It also underlines that anyone can make information discoveries.

All in all, this blog post leads us to question:
What topics are left out of the curriculum and why?
(I’ll come to that more in future posts).

Please share if you have ideas concerning the topic.

 

Why was modern school system created?

These days we take education somewhat for granted in many parts of the world and perhaps rightly so. But I decided to go way back and inspect historical reasons for why the modern school system was created in the 18th and 19th century in Europe.

One explanation for modern school system is found through functional approach: schools were created in response for the representation dilemma. Before industrialisation and urbanisation seized Europe there wasn’t really a need for large-scale schools — parents taught their children all the necessary skills needed for instance in farming. But troubles appeared when factories started spreading, towns began changing and work places started moving farther away from the people. How could people learn without actually seeing how things were done in the industrialised society? School system was therefore needed to fill the knowledge gap.

Another explanation is to see schools as a product of modernisation, an evolution of societies, which was an evident result of the Age of Enlightenment (breakthrough in the 18th century). According to Zygmunt Bauman modern society could be described as a dream of humans to create order to world’s disorder and to be capable of ruling life through rationality and knowledge. Development of modern school system is a prime instance how that kind of order has been tried to achieve and maintain.

Thirdly, one could see schools being formed to gain social control. When legislation to restrict the use of child labor was put into effect in the most industrialized country in the world, England, in early 1800s a chain reaction leading to mass compulsory education began. It was common that everybody in worker families contributed by working in factories and it wasn’t until 1860 that use of child labor was effectively put to a halt. Parents had to work, often times for the whole day and children started roaming around cities, creating fears of social problems. That’s why schools were introduced — in a way to ‘store’ these children in a safe place of order.

Further, modern school system has been the central institution for separating people into different social and cultural layers. Main rule of thumb has been that the greater the degree, the greater the social and cultural status one has possessed. Schools are even as of today an important place where people find their calling, identify their own skills and compare them to others and eventually receive counsel to which area should they spesialize in.

Anything to comment? Please share your ideas!

What is hidden curriculum in teaching?

It’s common knowledge that teachers have the official, written curriculum to give us for instance guidelines about topics meant to teach. However, that’s not the only thing influencing teaching. So called hidden curriculum is a side-product of teaching and means all the things that are taught and learned (usually) unintentionally.
Hidden curriculums could even displace the official curriculum and pupils could learn totally different things than what was originally meant during teaching.
I’m not here to to argue whether the idea of hidden curriculum is real or not, good or bad, but rather to broaden the understanding concerning teaching.

Hidden curriculum doesn’t exist in any written form as each teacher and pupil have their own underlying motives which affect the whole learning experience. Additionally, rules and norms which are taken for granted in schools could be a result of hidden curriculum.

It’s said that by researching the concept of hidden curriculum we gain information about the reality of schools that transcends the most obvious forms of teaching. That’s because there’s a lot of aspects in schools which both teachers and pupils are unaware of, yet ones that should be taken into account. 

One of these aspects is the seemingly apparent individualism, personalism and freedom which school teaching is supposed to enforce, based on the curriculum. Effectively those ideals could mean all the things outside the official curriculum are shut out and each pupil’s social actions are evaluated without taking class, gender, ethnical identity or wealth background into consideration.

Another idea behind hidden curriculum is to remove the misconcept that schools somehow are failing to achieve official goals and that the failure would be due to school system or practiced pedagogy. It could be considered that the mission of school institution isn’t to produce critically-minded and creative human beings or to equally develop each pupil, but rather to guide and force pupils in to the power structures and division of labor which are found in the society. This is called social reproduction in which new generations are socialised in to the society. In any case the success of school system could easily be compared to this agenda.

Closely connected to the idea of hidden curriculum is meta learning. Meta learning refers to the concept that in schools pupils learn to characterize themselves and their skills compared to others and the demands of the school system. Therefore, pupils learn to predict their future identity, place in the society and at the same time learn the limits of their capabilities already in school.

The theory related to hidden curriculum goes not without criticism. Some have argued the theoretical base of hidden curriculums is too rational. It’s also seen as common practice and natural that to protect integrity each school has their own agendas which are derived from multiple sources.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Teacher’s survival strategies

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Lately I’ve been reading this book concerning sosiology of education, since it’s the first mandatory book of teacher studies. It has many fascinating topics, including a chapter about teacher’s survival strategies.

First introduced by Peter Woods in 1979, teacher’s survival strategies involve ways for a teacher to make teaching more pleasant — in other words to cope with the reality of schools. These strategies incorporate a dual nature, meaning that they form through teacher’s professional role as an advocator of state’s interests but also by personal ideals, which are based on teacher’s own history and experience as a pupil. The aforementioned clash of profiles results in teacher’s survival strategies.

Let’s check out some of them.

Socialisation means that a teacher tries to evoke certain ideals for ‘good pupils’. In practice a teacher shapes pupils to meet her/his ideals, which consist of e.g. proper behaviour and language.

Then there’s domination, meaning that a teacher may use varied degrees of power over the classroom. Domination is described as an easy survival method, due to the fact that pupils are subjected to teacher’s control both being underaged (and therefore under guardianship with limited rights) and due to their institutional position as pupils.

Teacher may also utilize trading, i.e. a teacher might get pupils to promise to remain quiet for certain period of time by promising they can see a movie in the classroom.

Fraternization means that a teacher could seek to come in good terms with pupils through e.g. similar humor. And young teachers might try crossing generations by utilising cultural identification, e.g. using references from popular culture.

Exiting means that a teacher could completely exit situations which involve conflicts or difficult problems. Teachers could for instance ignore identifying learning disabilities.

Routines and rituals are used for instance to ensure peaceful classes. A school could be traditionally seen as peaceful and that’s then used as an argument for demanding peacefulness from pupils.

Professional therapy means that a teacher could see teaching first and foremost as a therapeutic activity. It’s then enough seeing pupils working on something appearing busy and enthusiastic and to think that the therapeutic, pupil-centric teaching is that way being realised.

Morale boosting occurs when a teacher justifies the importance of teaching, for instance after a bad day. This could happen along with discussions and professional humor shared in the senior common room with other teachers as well as by seeking their approval for methods used in teaching.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Sales and teaching — an unorthodox approach

It’s not often you read about teaching and sales in the same sentence. Before I started studying to become a subject teacher I actually did relatively lot of sales work. The more I study teaching, the more I consider sales attitude being applicable in teaching and giving a teacher synergy to achieve more. Granted, it’s an unorthodox approach. In any case one needs to inspect teaching from multiple angles.
Let’s begin by listing a few important aspects related to sales:

  • Research
  • Marketing
  • Optimisation
  • Goal-attainment

I see researching and understanding the educational needs of pupils extremely important. Same applies to sales and customers as well. In sales you might have (or might be planning) a commodity or service for which you need to find customers. That’s how some begin a market research. Whereas in teaching you have a subject to teach and could be thinking: Who needs this information and why? That’s why it’s crucial that the curriculum is developed based on feedback from pupils, research, trends and practical experience — these are the basic components of teaching’s ‘market research’.

Next you begin to think methods to present the subject. Or in sales you would initiate marketing phase. Teacher, at some level, needs marketing skills if we’re ever to convince pupils that the topics brought up are relevant. But it’s not about just pushing teacher’s important ideas one-way. Neither is ‘good’ sales about pushing. As time goes by you develop a sort of game-sense (in Finnish we call it ‘pelisilmä’) that helps in recognising the right tone of voice, authority and expertise needed to get the message clearly understood.

Additionally, both teaching and sales need constant optimisation. For instance time is scarce and resources limited so we have to manage with those assets we have and make the best out of them. Through optimisation we’ll discover what works and what doesn’t. It’s sometimes frustrating but in the end very educational.
Both sales and teaching involve a lot of human encounters so you need to adapt quickly to various changing circumstances. Every interaction is different and gives one an unique opportunity to learn from others as well and to develop awareness of diverse behaviour models.

Finally, in sales and teaching ultimately results matter. I don’t consider good grades or high test results the end result we should help pupils to blindly achieve per se (neither do I ignore their value). Attitudes that help to prepare pupils with life-long cognitive capabilities to always learn more and adapt to ever-changing world are perhaps the most relevant general skills we can teach everyone.

Comments and ideas welcome!

Inclusive teaching strategies

In the previous post I discussed briefly about equality in teaching and how social exclusion could be prevented in schools. In order to expand the topic I decided
to present ideas concerning inclusive teaching methods, because improving them could help to activate pupils more profoundly and make learning altogether more enjoyable an experience. I started thinking this topic after recently watching a video about ‘how to activate pupils more’. A subject teacher described his inclusive teaching method simply by saying that to activate pupils during lessons he states them what is mandated in the curriculum and asks them how could the goals set in the curriculum be achieved. That way, in theory, teaching meets the demand of the pupils’ better while at the same time fits in to the curriculum.

Furthermore, it must be noted that inclusive teaching shouldn’t be about the teacher transferring as many responsibilities as possible to the pupils, but rather about teachers really trying to understand pupils’ educational needs and make improvements based on their feedback. Although a teacher should always be the fair authority in the classroom, whose expertise can be relied upon.

Let’s investigate inclusive teaching methods, which in my opinion consist of:

  • Possibility to influence what is taught
    (e.g. history of modern technology or history of video games)
  • Possibility to influence teaching methods
    (e.g. group work or a school play depicting a historical epoch)
  • Possibility to influence school surroundings and rules
    (e.g. what’s the preferred time for a lunch)
  • Possibility to give feedback
    (e.g. a short questionnaire in the beginning/end of the course
    or feedback at the end of each lesson, which then affects consecutive lessons
    )

Firstly, possiblity to influence what is taught is pivotal if the modern school system is to be flexible and meet the constantly changing interests of the people and the world outside schools. It’s easy to teach the same things year after year, but by doing so we would do a huge disservice to the people. It’s clear that the effectual curriculum with its time limits should be followed, but there is also room for fresh ideas from the pupils. Subject teaching needs to be relevant, interesting and beneficial.

Secondly, possibility to influence teaching methods opens new ways for interaction.
I recently heard from a friend that one teacher has a system in which pupils earn collectibles (points) through ‘good behavior’ and once enough collectibles have been earned the pupils can decide a school trip destination from a selection. In my mind, this method teaches not only strategical thinking, goal-orientation but also about choices.

Thirdly, possibility to influence school surroundings and rules is connected to everyday things happening in the school environment. Timetables concerning lunch and recess or necessary school yard equipment — everyone has their own preference and not all is realizable or even practical. But concessions should be made if the wishes are reasonable and the rules for instance outdated. Therefore, a teacher should also be aware of trends and evaluate them.

Fourthly, possibility to give feedback both openly and anonymously enables active participation in common affairs. Feedback is often mentioned but still much overlooked. Some teachers don’t really care about the feedback due to thinking they know better, whereas some understandably just want to survive another work day in school. Yet, feedback could give us insights what works, what doesn’t and why.

Finally, these methods should be optional and none should feel they’re being forced to participate. Though everyone should be introduced to the advantages of participation. 

Please comment, subscribe and share your ideas about inclusive teaching.

How to become a subject teacher in Finland?

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University of Turku’s slogan is ‘free people’s gift to free science’. The university was founded with the help of over 22 000 donors in 1920, a few years after Finland’s independence in 1917.

Hello world! In order to become a subject teacher in Finland one needs to take an entrance exam, which commonly is a two-phased interview. You can take the entrance exam after you have become a student in an university and studied at least 50 credits or even after you have finished your studies. Further, every subject teacher in Finland has a Master’s Degree (or should have these days). Eventually, a subject teacher will be granted the competence to teach one or more subjects in various school levels, from primary school until University of Applied Sciences. University teaching has its own set of studies, in which one needs to apply separately.

Each university has their own process for the entrance exams, which differ slightly. In the University of Helsinki for instance if the amount of applicants exceeds a particular subject’s quota by 1.5 times there is a advance screening phase. Applicants are then reviewed based on the amount of credits they have. Thus, only certain applicants are called in for the interview. On the other hand, in the University of Turku there exists no such phase. Eligible applicants are publicly announced (online and on notice board), even though they aren’t called in individually for the entrance exam.

One thing of note is that if you don’t study or haven’t studied the exact subject (e.g. history) you might still be eligible to apply. You just need a Certificate of Equivalency from a university which means that your studies equate the one you’re applying to. Also if you plan to teach in different school levels, such as in senior high school, you need to have at least two subjects to teach and at least 120 credits worth of studies in one subject.

International students may also apply. You need to have good skills in Finnish, be a student of a Finnish university and have a right to study a Master’s Degree (Master’s Degree Programmes excluded). One may wonder whether ‘good skills’ in Finnish should be necessary if you would teach English in senior high school. Perhaps the requirements will change in the future?

The actual interview consists of 2-3 educational experts who review each applicant first in a group and then individually. Criteria include motivation, interaction skills and developability. Both phases last about 10-15 minutes.

After a successful entrance exam one is admitted to study Pedagogical Studies, which grant you the right to teach. These studies last one academic year. I’ll discuss more about them in future posts! If you’ve got questions or comments, please share them.

*Update on 23rd of April, 2017*
After further research I discovered there is at least one English pedagogical study programme in Finland. It’s in the University of Helsinki and called STEP (Subject Teacher Study Programme in English). Requirements include that you must have ‘good skills’ in English, a Master’s Degree and completed at least 60 credits of basic and intermediate studies in subjects found below.
It gives one the right to become a subject teacher in comprehensive and upper-secondary schools / senior high schools in Finland.
You can become a subject teacher in the following:
English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Swedish (as the other domestic or foreign language), Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.
More info: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/studying/how-to-apply/non-degree-programmes-for-teacher-qualifications