Before getting the Fulbright grant, I spent one day observing in a Finnish school, and this week I finally began a string of what will be many more days spent in classrooms. I’m spending the week at Koulumestari School, an elementary school with students up to grade 6 (approximately age 12). I’ve managed the three-bus commute each way, something that would be unimaginable without a phone app to show me where to catch each bus and what to do on the rare occasion when a bus is late and I miss a connection.
On arriving at the school, I found mobs of kids entering the building and stripping off their jackets, snowpants, and boots. Kids mostly run around school in their socks, but some bring slippers or other indoor shoes. This is great! The floors are clean enough for lounging, and I assume the kids feel more comfortable and able to sit any way they want without shoes getting in the way. You may wonder what happens when there is a fire drill, and I can answer that. Some kids scramble to throw on outerwear and boots, while others go out in their slippers. And when I say go out, I mean they go out behind the school and stand on the ice rink. Luckily it was not too cold (a bit below freezing), and it wasn’t sleeting too hard.
The overall feeling at the school is much less stressful and rushed than you’d probably observe in American schools. A typical day for the 6th graders starts at 8:15 with some greetings said by the class in unison, both in Finnish and English, followed by a run-down of the day’s schedule. Then they have two 45-minute classes, followed by a 30-minute break during which they go outside to run around and expend extra energy. They then return for two more 45-minute lessons. Next is a 20-minute lunch and another 30-minute recess outside. The afternoon schedule varies, with classes usually ending at 2:00 (3:00 on Tuesday).
Free school lunch is provided for all students up to age 19. There’s no choice, but there are special meals made for students with specific dietary needs (vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.). The food is simple and healthy. Teachers eat in the cafeteria and supervise the students, although the kids didn’t seem to need much supervision. I had the vegetarian meals.
Above: Mushrooms and vegetables, salad, and rye cracker
Left: Rice, tofu and vegetables, salad, and the ever-popular rye cracker (my favorite meal, but I would have added some hot peppers . . .)
No french fries, pizza, tater tots, or ketchup counting as a vegetable. Kids serve themselves, taking as much as they plan to eat. Many office cafeterias and other restaurants have a fixed-price buffet lunch that includes salad, soup, bread, a main course, tea/coffee, and sometimes dessert, all for $10-$11. I suppose it’s what would be billed as “all you can eat” in the US, but that idea doesn’t translate here. I suppose this approach to eating starts in the first grade.
In my next post I’ll talk about some specific classes I observed and what I’ve learned so far about supporting special education students (and others who might need a bit of help).