Here’s a refreshing change of pace – an uplifting view about the state of education! Thanks to a wonderful submission sent in by Suzanne G., a math and special education teacher from Ohio, we have the chance to visit a classroom in the country ranked at the top of worldwide education performance. It is an engaging picture of what classrooms can be, and what they once were across the USA.
(Another outstanding teacher story follows this introduction, as part of
our BeHEARD! initiative to let YOUR classroom voice be seen nationwide.
If you did not know about BeHEARD! – please click here.)
Several respected researchers estimate educational performance by country each year. Depending upon what survey you accept, Finland is usually seen as ranking #1 or #2 (alternating with South Korea) in terms of “cognitive skills and educational attainment. The lowest ranking I found was #5. Meanwhile, the USA, by these same researchers is usually #17, with #14 the highest published result.
Suzanne found a very different environment than all of us find in our classrooms. Several things really stood out to me:
- Small classes
- Time for, and encouragement of, collaboration between teachers
- Senior teachers actively helping new teachers
- “Gym” not being forced out by test prep
- Curriculum aimed at all ends of the spectrum – not just a forced, dumbed-down, middle road
- Electives were equal priority with core subjects.
A few things didn’t surface in this blog, but became evident when I visited her blog and looked at the photos on her site. There was an atmosphere of friendliness and “brightness” that really jumps out. Classrooms seemed to be a place you would love to teach in, and would be proud of.
Enjoy a look at the classrooms we all remember from 20 years ago, before all the destructive mandates.
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(Suzanne G. is a high school math and special education teacher from Ohio. She took a year’s sabbatical to visit other schools, and is blogging her way through the classrooms of Europe. Please visit her blog at sgenillier.wordpress.com to enjoy being part of the trip!)
I am currently on sabbatical observing schools in the French-speaking world, with one exception, Finland, for I was curious to discover the secret to their success. What I saw was enlightening! A philosophy of less is more when it comes to teaching.
Kids don’t start school till they are 7 years old. Each 45 minute class is followed by a 15 minute break during which all students have to go outside no matter what the weather (I observed an IB Middle School), while teachers get a chance to collaborate in the teacher’s lounge. I saw small classes (around 15 students), often with two or three teachers (the main teacher, a teacher who helps with special need kids and, if the main teacher is new he collaborates with a veteran teacher with whom he co-teaches three or four times a week).
I saw a curriculum that was meant for all students (not just the highly academic ones) including mandatory classes such as home-economics where students cooked and ate their own meal, workshop, during which students were building their own bike, textile where students could experiment with sewing machines, looming machines or do a knitting project. I saw student-centered classes that looked more like study halls – with students working in collaboration while the teacher(s) walked around to help as needed.
But, I didn’t see students and teachers being overworked, over-tested, or constantly asked to do more with less means and less time to teach. I saw what “no child left behind” meant in a school system that offers choices between technical HS and main stream (the average is 50/50 in the country).
I understand that some of their success can be attributed to different social conditions and a more homogeneous population (though I saw diversity in the classrooms I observed). But this is no by mere chance – they make sure to provide for each child so no one has to come to school hungry or worry about not being able to afford their transportation fee. No matter what the conditions are, their school system, where the well-being of the child and the teacher is a priority, makes a lot of sense and has proven successful.
If you want to read more about my experience and see a few pictures, I have kept a blog of my experience at sgenillier.wordpress.com
The 2nd edition of the acclaimed book about today’s failed education system
– Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education –
is now available, with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine
new chapters. Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book
“…from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher”
that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education
of our children. Please get a copy HERE or on Amazon.