Analysis: A Place Where Teachers Are Valued

An educator from Finland says high-quality teachers are the key to success.

It seems too good to be true -- at one university in Finland, it’s harder to get into teacher education than law or medicine.

In a recent piece in the Times, reporter Jenny Anderson reported on the visit of a Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, to the Dwight School on Central Park West.

Sahlberg asked a group of 15 high school seniors: “Who here wants to be a teacher?” In a class of 15 only two hands went up – one, according to the story,”reluctantly.”

Sahlberg  touched a nerve. The attitude of the educational establishment in the public school system of New York has not been fair to teachers.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, many teachers and the teaching profession have been relegated almost to a pariah status. And that is deplorable.

But in some private schools and public schools in New York , where the attitude toward education is not governed by testing or the Bloomberg mania for high scores on exams, there is a more constructive model.

And this distinguished educator from Finland put his finger on it. He says that high-quality teachers are at the heart of Finland’s education success story.

Sahlberg paid an all-day visit to Dwight, a for-profit institution with an international outlook. In Finland, Sahlberg noted, education doesn’t start until age 7. And, says the Finnish leader, “The first six years of education are not about academic success. We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”

I spoke to two leaders of the Dwight School. Dianne Drew, the principal, said: “He was brilliant.  Teachers are the inspiration for great education. Every student is unique. You can’t put them in a maze and have them come out fully formed.”

Stephen Spahn, the chancellor, said “You need to allow students and teachers to blossom. They are not just numbers or cogs in a machine. Teachers need to be free --  and students too –  to have a problem-solving capacity.”

Sahlberg says that Finland is going against the tide of the “global education reform movement,
which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control.”

Looking back at my early years [and that’s quite a distance!] I remember that the best teachers were the innovators. They made us feel the excitement of learning. Numbers were important but, more important was the inspiration they gave us.

The goal then, as it should be now, was to forge a parent-teacher-student partnership. We had events like Open School week, which made the relationship closer. Our teachers were authority figures but the goal was to please the parents too, those early mentors, and make them proud. 

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