Exploring the Finnish education system through teacher training


Jeff Applegate, an American teacher and actor, recently completed part of his teacher training at the Turku Teacher Training School. During his stay in Finland, he had the opportunity to immerse himself in the Finnish education and teacher training system, gaining valuable insights into its methods and philosophies.

Applegate, who hails from New Jersey in the United States, travelled to Finland in March to take part in a teacher training programme at the Turku Teacher Training School. The training was part of the Master of Arts in Teaching programme at Rider University, where Applegate is currently enrolled. In Finland, the practical arrangements of the training visit were organised by the Global Educational Services of the University of Turku.

Nordic connections and educational excellence

Turku, Finland may not be the most obvious destination for a teacher trainee from the US. But for Applegate, it was an appealing option right from the start.

One of the reasons Applegate chose to come to Finland was a personal connection to the Nordic countries. He has Nordic ancestry, including Norwegian and Danish roots, and a preference for colder climates and winter conditions. This made Finland naturally appealing to him.

Additionally, Applegate was drawn by the renowned reputation of Finland's education system, which has been highly regarded for its effectiveness and excellence. The chance to experience this educational environment first-hand and enhance his teaching skills was a significant motivation.

Lastly, Applegate notes that among the options available, Turku stood out because it was the only programme among the available options that was affiliated with a university that had a faculty of education and teacher training services.

“I knew I would be entering a system specifically designed to create better teachers. Other options sounded interesting and were affiliated with different schools, but this programme allowed me to integrate into a structured environment focused on teacher development. This experience is not just about being somewhere different or seeing what is different; it is about engaging with a programme that offers new perspectives on becoming a better teacher,” Applegate explains.

Although Turku, Finland, is not the most obvious choice for a US-based teacher trainee, it was an attractive option for Applegate from the start.

Collaborative training system offered new learning experiences

During his stay, Applegate immersed himself in various aspects of the Finnish education system, observing and teaching classes and interacting with other teachers. He was particularly impressed by the way teacher trainees learn their craft at the Turku Teacher Training School.

“In terms of surprises, I think the biggest one compared to what I am familiar with at home is the concept of a teacher training school. Back home, there might be some programmes like this, but I am not aware of them. In Finland, I was teaching in a school with more teacher trainees than regular teachers. The idea of a school specifically designed to train teachers, where experienced teachers are responsible for mentoring the teacher trainees, was completely new and absolutely fantastic to me,” Applegate explains and continues:

“Another surprising aspect was the emphasis on collaborative learning. We were not just paired with one mentor teacher, we also had the opportunity to observe and learn from other teacher trainees. This peer learning experience was incredibly valuable.”

Applegate was also impressed with the way students adapted to working with new teacher trainees.

“It was almost astonishing to see how effortlessly they accepted the presence of new people coming in to teach them. Whether it was observing my fellow teacher trainees or interacting with the students myself, they just rolled with it. They seemed to anticipate and embrace the changes without resistance. It was truly impressive.” 

During his stay, Applegate was impressed by the Finnish education system, particularly the unique teacher training school concept, collaborative learning among teacher trainees, and students' adaptability to new teachers.

Insights and key takeaways

Applegate’s experience in Finland has not only broadened his teaching perspective but also strengthened his commitment to fostering inclusive and supportive learning environments. From his teacher training experience in Finland, he has gleaned a couple of significant insights. Firstly, he has realised that education systems that place too much emphasis on assessment do not always work very well.

“By streamlining assessments to be more concise yet effective, there is more room for actual learning. This shift benefits both students and teachers, particularly in certain subjects where constant grading can be overwhelming,” Applegate says.

Another takeaway revolves around classroom dynamics.

“During my time in Turku, I have learned about the importance of balancing listening and speaking with more kinetic to ensure students remain actively engaged. If these activities do not occupy enough class time, it indicates a need for more interactive and hands-on learning experiences.”

Furthermore, Applegate thinks that the opportunity to observe various teaching methods and classroom environments has been very enlightening. He believes that witnessing first-hand how different teachers engage their students provides invaluable insights into effective teaching practices.

Applegate’s experience in Finland broadened his teaching perspective and strengthened his commitment to fostering inclusive, supportive learning environments.

When considering what aspects of the US school system he would like to export to Finland, Applegate mentions that he is intrigued by differences in how the two systems integrate extracurricular activities into the school system.

“Back home, extracurriculars can sometimes become all-consuming, particularly with the pressure to excel in sports like football or basketball, which can add stress for students. Yet, there is value in extracurriculars beyond just competition and there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from participating in team activities. Learning skills and understanding team dynamics are aspects that I am not certain happen in quite the same way here,” he says and continues:

“And, it is not solely about sports. Personally, theatre was a significant part of my high school experience. In many American high schools, there are two major productions each year, offering students a chance to perform and showcase their talents.”

While Applegate sees the benefits of extracurricular activities, he also recognises the need for careful consideration. According to him, there are many things to consider in terms of the potential benefits and drawbacks before making a final judgement on what works in different settings.

Embracing the synergy between acting and teaching

In addition to his teaching career, Applegate has an extensive background in acting, having appeared in numerous films, television and theatre productions. He believes that his two careers complement each other and strengthen his ability to channel creative energy into positive outlets. In the future, he hopes to pursue both careers.

According to Applegate, many people associate acting solely with performance. However, he believes that being a good actor requires essential skills such as connecting, listening and engaging. These skills are also crucial in teaching. For Applegate, being a great teacher is therefore not limited to standing in front of a class; it extends to fostering meaningful connections with students. 

“I often emphasise the mantra that what makes you a better actor also makes you a better person, and vice versa. I find it crucial, particularly with the secondary students I work with, to emphasise the importance of authenticity and self-expression. In many educational settings, there is a tendency to prioritise conformity over individuality. However, drawing from my background in acting, I strive to empower students to embrace their true selves and develop a deeper connection to their identities,” Applegate explains and concludes:

“Ultimately, by integrating elements of acting into my teaching, I aim to help students not only excel academically but also to become more confident, self-aware individuals who are connected to their true selves and prepared to navigate the world around them.”

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Created 17.06.2024 | Updated 19.06.2024