Although I can never count on the sun in Finland, I can always count on my morning coffee and porridge, which is doused with maple syrup and peppered with coconut flakes.
In Finland, tardiness is a cardinal sin. My first class starts at 8:00 am sharp and I don’t want to be late. I set up my classroom the night before, so I’m ready to hit the ground running with my students as soon as I arrive.
My school, Ressu, is a bilingual comprehensive in the heart of Helsinki for 1st grade to 9th grade students. I am the 5th grade classroom teacher on the English side, teaching 11- to 12-year-olds, and I work closely with my partner on the Finnish side. I have 24 students—a typical class size.
My favorite moments of each day occur before I reach the door to my classroom. In the long hallway outside, most of my students are sitting down on the floor and I greet them as I stroll past. I insist on saying good morning to each one. Sometimes I need to interrupt a conversation or an iPhone game for a hello, but I know this gesture means a lot to them. This interaction means a lot to me, too. Greeting each other is the foundation of each school day.
As soon as I unlock the door to our classroom, I wave my students in to start the day with me. Although I teach different subjects throughout the week—history, geography, biology, physics, chemistry, English, ethics and math—the framework of our timetable is consistent. Each lesson is an hour long, with a 15-minute break in every period. While my students are playing outside, I meet individually with some of them, deal with emails or plan lessons.
At 10:55 am, we head to the cafeteria for a 20-minute lunch. Although I’m not required to sit with my students, I make this a priority. Then at 1:00 pm, I wave goodbye to them after our last lesson together.
Before moving to Finland, I would often feel exhausted at the end of a full day of teaching. But my experience has been different here. With those frequent 15-minute breaks and a shorter school day, I have much more energy to prepare the classroom, plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues after my students have gone.
Most afternoons, I’ll make my way home to my family with a spring in my step—even if the darkness of the Finnish winter is all around me.
This article originally appeared in the Times Educational Supplement on July 25, 2014. Photo credit: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho.
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