Finland Teacher Tales Pt. 8: Pulling Back the Curtain on the Finland Education Fantasy

Hi I’m James, I’m a classroom teacher from Sydney

My wife Michelle and I have come to Finland to find out how the famous Finns 'do school'. With Finnish students constantly outperforming Australian students in international testing, my goal is to identify any key points of difference that make a difference to students learning.

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it's not open.” ~ Frank Zappa

This has been a journey of firsts for me. Now, for the first time in my 24 year teaching career I would be giving classes while it’s dark outside.

What was I expecting when I arrived for my first day at a Helsinki school? After the extensive media coverage in Australia of the Finnish school system I certainly had high expectations. Education Utopia? Teachers with supernatural powers? 

(When I told the Helsinki teachers of their 'rock star' status back in Australia they were highly amused. Have a listen to this short video excerpt from the staff meeting for their reaction.)

Michelle and I arrived early at 7:30am (so we could have time to meet staff and set up before we present lessons to Years 5 and 6 classes at 8:15). It was dark, the playground was barren and icy, and all the buildings were a beige shade of grey. 

Most teachers arrived at around 8am and made coffee. We were warmly welcomed by the principal and deputy principal - and other staff cordially greeted us as they arrived. The bell went at 8:15. Everyone casually sauntered to their classroom to meet up with their pupils. No stress here!


I would spend the day with the English teacher and teach her classes. Each class had from 12-16 students. Each lesson being 45 minutes, I got to teach several classes. We had break times where we could chat with teachers and pupils, and we had a delicious [free] lunch with the principal in the school cafeteria. 

We finished teaching for the day at 1:15pm. Kids went home. Teachers stayed on for a meeting.

First impressions? The kids and their teachers were very friendly and simply delightful - and everyone was calm, happy and affectionate. It seemed like they had time and space in their lives. It was a very different feel and pace to an Australian school.


Yet the teachers were clearly passionate professionals in every sense, and the pupils obviously loved learning and being a part of their school community. 

Mmm, Roihuvuori Comprehensive School has a kind of energy that I haven't felt in a school before. Looking forward to more!

How can cold and grey be this warm and colourful?!

James Phelps

You can follow us on our teaching and learning journey on the Minds Wide Open Facebook page.