A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

A Castle, a Fulbrighter, and Funny Questions

Part of being a Fulbrighter is that you get to  join a network of scholars, teachers, professionals, students, and artists. Fortunately for me, I met two dynamic Finnish teachers in Washington DC, the summer before my trip. This allowed me the possibility to visit their schools, much in the same way they did when they were in the United States.
The world traveler, Emilia 
My visit to Ahveniston Koulu in Hameenlinna, was truly a treat. Emilia is an English teacher and travel blogger, and has maintained her own blog about her Fulbright experience at Emilia-ontheroad.com. In many school visits, I do a general presentation about California, and then have a Q and A period afterwards. Many Finnish students are shy, and at first, I thought I was bombing my presentations. Teachers assured me that if the students were quiet it meant they were engaged.


Nonetheless, I gave students many ways they could ask questions:
  • ·       Verbally-this was the least popular option
  • ·       In writing
  • ·       Through text
  • ·       Through social media
  • ·       Through email

The students of Nummen Yhtenäiskoulu were frank, direct, and humorous. They wanted to know my favorite Finnish food, had I tried Salmiakkikossu (a licorice liqueur), why America has so many shootings, and if I owned a gun. Emilia looked mortified, but they really reminded me of my own middle school students in South Central L.A. For this reason, I complied when they asked me to dab. Truly enjoyable.

With my buddies, the honest kids of Nummen Ytenäiskoulu.

Emilia shared with me that the school was moving locations because the current location was had air quality problems. This situation and other issues such as mold are a problem, I heard on frequently in Finland, and not just in school buildings. The combination of construction design, insulation, and lack of ventilation in the winter are all contributing factors. Unfortunately for students and teachers, this often means a forced relocation to a new facility. All instructional materials and resources must be left in the old building. 

This gets costly.

Students at this school were somewhat reluctant to go outside for break time. This can be attributed to a change in policy, where previously going outdoors during break was optional. With the mold problem, the school made outdoor breaks mandatory.

For school visits, sometimes the hosting teacher is able to pick you up from the train station. This was the case in Hameenlina. However, before my departure, I just had to visit the medieval castle in town. As a history teacher, it is important for me to make connections with my curriculum, and Finnish castles are a rarity. Luckily I was able to sightsee, visit a school, and even join teachers socially after a local conference.

My takeaway was this: middle schoolers are curious and hilarious in both the U.S. and Finland. Teachers deal with struggles no matter where they work. And instituting a new schedule with outdoor time is something that will need to be done in stages in order for it to be successful.

Link to mold article: https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/slow_torture_finlands_mould-ridden_schools_causing_breathing_difficulties_for_kids/6959621


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