The process to enter the profession is highly selective. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants for the classroom-teacher education program at the University of Helsinki were accepted this school year. All classroom teachers must earn a master’s degree, which means preparing five or six years before landing a first job.
Once hired, teachers say their work is satisfying, despite lower pay than in many other affluent nations. They are valued by principals, parents and students as experts, in contrast with American counterparts who often feel attacked by criticisms that schools don’t measure up.
Teachers here, too, deal with discipline issues. During a Monday visit at Meilahti, Upper Stage, the principal excused herself to meet with a parent because of a fight the previous Friday. Finnish teachers, however, said most students are respectful, and the teachers I observed spent little time enforcing rules in classrooms or hallways.