The teaching profession in Finland is very competitive. Only one of every 10 applicants is accepted into a teacher preparation program. In fact, it is harder to get into a university to become a teacher than it is to get into a university to become a lawyer or medical doctor.
The target of the teacher preparation program is to have the teacher do more than just teach subject matter. The Finnish people believe that teaching is about helping children to see for themselves what the meaning of life is. Teachers learn and think along these lines so that both the talented and weaker learners are equally acknowledged.
Teacher education is divided into five general categories: preschool teaching, general classroom teaching, subject teachers majoring in various school subjects, special education teachers, and vocational teachers. Preparation differs depending on which grades teachers want to teach. For example, primary school teachers major in education and minor in various content areas, while secondary school teachers major in their content area and minor in education.
The teacher degree program includes both theoretical courses and practical training. Courses include pedagogy, didactics, educational philosophy, educational psychology, foreign languages, religion/ethics, careers education and guidance, and “aesthetic” subjects. The degree requires a five-year master’s degree that includes writing a master’s thesis.
Regardless of which level of teaching they pursue, future teachers study theory in class and quickly practice applying what they’ve learned in field schools. Teachers at the field schools must have had university coursework in supervising student teachers. By graduation, a student has done at least 120 supervised teaching lessons, all in conjunction with a supervising teacher. This depth of preparation is essential because, when teachers are hired, they’re expected to hit the ground running.
The result is that Finnish teachers are highly respected and treated far more like professionals than American teachers.
What’s most interesting is that Finnish teachers are on their feet in front of students for fewer hours every week, teaching only three to four hours per day. The rest of their work time is spent in preparation, working with colleagues, marking papers, and doing other duties. Unless they have to teach a class, they are not required to be at the school. This is representative of trust and responsibility that pervades the Finnish culture.