One of my favorite things about Helsinki is the pop-up phenomenon. It seems that every time I’m tromping through the open square at Kamppi on my way to the bus station, there’s something going on. It might be a concert in celebration of Ex-Criminal Day (no joke), a bunch of vendors selling licorice and cheese, or tables with steaming bowls of soup ready for the taking while an episode of Master Chef is being filmed (which resulted in my 1.5 seconds of fame on Finnish TV).
A majority of my time in the Koulumestari School was spent with one of the two 6th grade classes (equal to US grade 7). There are 23 kids in the class, and they are taught most of their subjects by a regular education teacher (called a class teacher) and a special education teacher. The teachers have the room shown below as well as an adjoining room containing a few tables as well as a large sofa and some beanbag chairs for reading. Both rooms are equipped with Smart Boards, desktop computers, and document cameras. Each student has a school-issued tablet that can be taken home.
The two teachers worked together seamlessly, sometimes co-teaching a lesson and other times splitting students into two groups and using the second room. I didn’t even know that one teacher was a special educator until asking, and I wonder if students are aware of the distinction.
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.
I’m a high school physics teacher from Boston who is spending four months researching education in Finland on a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant. See the about me and Fulbright pages for background information.
On Sunday I arrived in Helsinki, exhausted from a sleepless overnight flight that was preceded by a hectic week that included midyear exams, conveying all of the necessary information to the teacher who replaced me, and shoveling mounds of record-breaking snow in Boston. I had an evening to unpack (or if I’m being honest, to start unpacking, as I haven’t yet finished . . . ) and then I attempted to get some rest before the Fulbright orientation began.